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

For my dad

Nov 29, 2017
Kafefajka, Nowy Swiat
Warszawa

I.

Dear Fatherland,

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

But your government is fascist.

Your religion is medieval.

Your customer service sucks.

And your people are rude and pushy.

II.

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

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

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

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

Which, of course, is at it should be.

A corpse is not a person.

III.

I don’t like coming back “home.”

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

IV.

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

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

My grandfather’s sister is crying.

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

For his soul?

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

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

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

V.

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

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

They’re so loud.

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

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

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

I don’t want to.

VI.

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

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

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

Everyone else is wearing black.

VII.

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

VIII.

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

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

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

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

But I can’t.

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

I stand in silence.

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

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

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

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

Analyze the appearances and manifestations of grief.

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

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

IX.

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

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

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

I’m thrilled.

X.

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

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

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

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

XI.

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

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

XII.

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

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

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

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

My mother was there, though.

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

I remember her.

I loved her.

XIII.

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

The letter is full of good memories and warm feelings.

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

It’s the first time I hear those stories.

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

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

I probably know him best through her stories.

XIV.

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

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

Citizens of the world.

XV.

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

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

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

“Ten… no, nine years ago,” I said.

“In 2000, at her wedding,” he said.

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

My mother, who overhead the conversation, was appalled.

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

She didn’t understand, at all.

But I did.

Geography matters.

Time spent matters.

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

My children will also miss only one set of grandparents.

XVI.

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

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

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

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

That’s not him, she says.

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

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

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

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

But you see… she loved him so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family is complicated.

Is love?

XVII.

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

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

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

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

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

Love is also very simple.

XVIII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

XIX.

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

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

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

Both his daughters remain religious and devout.

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

Family, as I’ve said, is complicated.

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

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

XX.

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXI.

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

Citizens of the world, all of us.

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

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

But I think it.

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

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

I doubt it.

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

XXII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We eat.

Conversation, memories, stories.

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

XXIII.

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

Shitty customer service is another.

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

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

XXIV.

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

Family.

Love.

The proper way to make and serve schabowe.

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

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

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

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

I tell my dad, “I’m glad I came.”

“I’m happy you like Poland,” he says.

Um. That’s not what I said.

XXV.

Dear Fatherland,

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

It’s not your fault.

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

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

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

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

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

But I am not yours and you are not mine.

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

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

But that’s their future to navigate and write.

I’m writing my present now.

Goodbye, Grandfather.

I’m really glad I came,

xoxo

Marzena

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

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

I.

I am in the kitchen, burning tortillas.

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

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

Hold on…

Saved it. “It’s perfect,” Ender says.

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

II.

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

Speaking of which, I am nursing a cup.

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

They didn’t like hearing them.

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

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

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

“Big people take care of little people.”

“Flora’s not little.”

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

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

IV.

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

Not unexpected news.

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

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

Me?

I hardly knew him.

V.

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

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

Being loved and loving is very important.

VI.

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

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

I think they understand.

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

“I’m hungry,” he announces.

VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flora: No.

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

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

Ender: I’m hungry!

Jane: I just fed you!

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

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

“Love me. Pay attention to me.”

When I myself am hungry… well.

VIII.

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

I’m shocked to find out… that I do.

IX.

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

He doesn’t hesitate.

“Go.”

X.

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

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

XI.

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

I am still feeling… tranquil. Poetic.

Sad. But in a… in a really good way.

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

xoxo

Jane

written and posted in real time

Rhythm, interrupted

I.

My day is interrupted by a puking child, and…

No. Not like that. Interrupted?

The definition of interrupt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.

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

Take three:

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

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

I shush him.

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

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

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

I don’t.

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

But happy thoughts too.

I like thinking.

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

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

“Upstairs?” I whisper to him.

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

6:17.

Early.

Ugh.

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

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

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

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

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

About to be interrupted—but no.

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

“I need to cuddle.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wiggles down and curls around my feet.

I do my work.

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

He says it this time before I do:

“Upstairs?”

Upstairs.

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

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

III.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

IV.

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

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

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

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

It’s fascinating.

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

It’s kind of interesting.

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

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

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

Anyway.

Happiness.

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

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

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

But happy?

No.

And I don’t even want to be happy.

But let’s not talk about that today.

V.

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

“And Mommy?” he asks.

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

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

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

VI.

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

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

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

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

They are a quest for… stillness. Silence.

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

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

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

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

VII.

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

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

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

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

When we come back, Ender is asleep.

Turns out, Cinder took him sledding.

“Seriously?” That’s me.

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

Ender sleeps like the dead; wakes up perfectly healthy.

VIII.

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

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

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

I’m chasing… not happiness. But flow.

Rhythm.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll tell you about it, bit by bit.

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

Sleep.”

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

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

Rhythm?

Flow?

Sort of.

Rhythm, interrupted?

Sure. Hey, there’s my title.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

Breaking habits, keeping friends, looking for methadone

I.

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

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

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

II.

Cinder: Anyone want lettuce? Only slightly used?

Jane: No, nobody wants your used lettuce.

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

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

And also vegetables.

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

IV.

Flora: Worst! Parents! Ever!

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

And we laughed.

Flora: Aren’t you going to help me?

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

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

Flora: Worst. Parents. Ever.

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

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

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

Worst. Child. Ever.

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

Jane: Threat fail. Already doing it.

V.

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

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

It’s gone.

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

The joy of which was… problematic.

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

VI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flora: Can I watch a show?

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

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

Whatever. ;P

VII.

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

I am enjoying it.

I don’t… love it.

I fucking love my coffee.

VIII.

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

“How’s your tea?” you ask.

I grimace.

Tea-like.

Not coffee like.

Inferior.

Crappy methadone, and I miss my heroin.

IX.

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

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

I hate meeting you for tea.

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

Ugh, why did that get so heavy?

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

X.

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

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

I swallow it, chew it with joy.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS I. Miss. Coffee.

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

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

 

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Creative-Non Fiction Life

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

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

Because she said…

“I lead a creative non-fiction life.”

Me too, sister, me too, I thought.

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

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

How about you?

xoxo

“Jane”

You: That’s it? You call that a post?

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

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

Sultry, slow, summer, time

I.

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

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

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

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

But I totally got goose bumps listening to this:

II.

Sunday was hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I tell you? I’m taking back time.

One slow lazy sultry day, hour at a time.

III.

Monday hasn’t happened yet.

Isn’t that wonderful?

It’s all in the future. All potential.

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

And it will be hot. And sultry.

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

See?

I’m doing it.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

Dharma, slowing down time, & beauty in the ordinary

I.

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

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

It’s fucking adorable.

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

II.

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

Compulsory practices don’t count.

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

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

And now I’m meditating.

It’s really weird.

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

But I’m doing it.

At least once a day, most days twice.

III.

I’m doing it, because, dharma.

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

IV.

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

Fuck.

Me too.

When I grow up, I want to be me.

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

OMFG, my head hurts…

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

V.

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

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

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

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

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

That, I think, is my dharma.

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

So just imagine something beautiful… right here:

 

[this space intentionally left blank]

 

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

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

VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rod Stryker, The Four Desires

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

VIII.

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

IX.

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

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

Time slows down.

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

I explore the feeling.

X.

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

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

Instead, I get this:

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

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

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

OK.

That helps.

That actually… really helps.

Me, anyway.

Does it help you?

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

III.

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

IV.

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

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

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

It’s all right, we tell each other.

It’s their time more than it is ours.

Our time will come… when?

V.

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

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

I feel I have blinked and they have disappeared.

VI.

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

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

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

I hate it.

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

I love it.

I envy them.

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

VII.

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

I am…

(Don’t throw the mud pie at my face.)

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

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

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

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

Eight hours. Alone.

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

VIII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“Calgary,” he says.

I nod.

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

“Works for me,” he says.

And we go.

IX.

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

Their noise—especially when happy—is precious too.

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

The hitchhiker does not say a word for five hours.

Our ride is a prayer.

X.

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

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

I’m not perky.

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

It’s a nice feeling.

interruptions

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

Busy.

Time

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

XI.

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

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

Grateful.

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

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

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

“What do you need, dude?”

“I need to hug Mommy!”

Grateful.

Also… you know. Other things.

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

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

I was looking for… time.

And time… I got.

All the time in the world.

xoxo

“Jane”

Metamorphosis

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

I do, so clearly, harshly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metaphors… help.

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

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

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

Fly.

xoxo

“Jane”

Figuratively dying, literally screaming, kinda lecturing

I.

On Monday, I do savasana the proper way.*

It is so fucking boring, I almost die.

Like, literally.

My heartbeat and breath rate slow down to nada.

Also, figuratively.

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

(Hey, was that a moment of enlightenment?)

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

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

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

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

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II.

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

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

Jane: Yup.

Flora: So everyone knows.

Jane: Yup.

Flora: Censorship is so stupid.

Yup. Except…

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

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III.

Racism is stupid.

Sexism is stupid.

Being an ignorant asswipe is stupid.

You know what else is stupid?

Telling people they’re stupid.

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

Flora: But some things are just wrong.

Jane: Yes.

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

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

Why is this so difficult to explain?

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IV.

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

So, um. No.

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

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

Do you know where sanity lies?

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

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

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

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

We’re all part of the problem.

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V.

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

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

I’m so fucking this up.

Why is this so hard?

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

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

Why is this so hard?

VII.

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

And listen to Hedley:

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

I don’t know if I can do it.

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

😦

“Jane”

nbtb-figurateively-collage

Photos from Project: Beautiful Things All Around Me 

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

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

Magic, yoga, meditation and being the centre of the universe (a 50% deceptive title)

I.

Monday was my father’s birthday, and he was very far away and I could not hug him and love him and thank him. I have loved him with a particular vehemence this week, for all sorts of complicated reasons. Among them, this: I was, I am the center of his universe. Completely. The most important thing ever. And he taught me to expect to be… the most important thing in everyone’s universe.

OK, this has occasionally made me a challenging lover-wife-friend (uhm, employee).

But on the whole, you know what? I’ll take it over the alternatives.

II.

mjc-cinder-with-maggie

True story:

Jane: Cindeeeer! Can you give me my little purse? The pink one? I left it on the table and I don’t want to come into the kitchen in my muddy boots.

Cinder: What’s in it for me?

Jane: My eternal gratitude.

Cinder: I’m sending it by express dog.

Jane: Do. Not. Fucking. Tie. My. Purse. Around… Christ. Why? Why? Why did you tie my purse around the dog?

Cinder: Because it was funny?

Jane: Because you like to antagonize me?

Cinder: That too. Also, with all this yoga and meditation you’ve been doing lately, I believe you need more daily challenges. And that’s MY job.

[insert bad word here]

[delete it, because it’s wrong to call your eldest son an asshole]

[even when he sorta is]

[sigh]

[a loveable, amazing asshole]

[just annoying]

[god, i love him… i love him so much]

III.

Am Reading:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert—YES! And yes, you should read it too. All of you, any of you. Even if you hated Eat Pray Love—me, I couldn’t make it though that book… first chapter, I wanted to slap Liz upside the face and say, “Stop your fucking whining, privileged white woman. Jeezus, even I’ve suffered more than you.” Um… digression. Point: I did not like Eat Pray Love. I LOVED Big Magic. I ripped through it in a day and a half despite a hundred and one other projects and obligations.

My favourite part:

“Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because fierce trusts knows that the outcome does not matter.

The outcome CANNOT matter.”

The outcome cannot matter.

Fuck. That. Is. So. Hard.

But so necessary.

The most important lesson:

“When I finished that novel, it was not a perfect novel, but I still felt it was the best work I’d ever done, and I believed I was a far better writer than I’d been before I began it. I would not trade a minute of that encounter for anything.

But now that work was finished, and it was time for me to shift my attention to something new—something that would also, someday, be released as good enough. This is how I’ve always done it, and this is how I will keep doing it, so long as I am able.

Because that is the anthem of my people.

That is the Song of the Disciplined Half-Ass.”

My song, too. More or less.

IV.

Am also reading:

Yoga For Real Life by Maya Fiennes, Kundalini Meditation: The Path to Personal Transformation and Creativity by Kathryn McCusker, and A Woman’s Book of Meditation: Discovering the Power of a  Peaceful Mind by Hari Kaur Khalsa

Am re-reading: A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judith Reeves, which is quite fun and useful and playfully inspiring… and also, unintentionally (and it’s clearly me and not the author) depressing (I’m not going to tell you why) (yet).


I am not writing.

This is mostly on purpose…

You: And this blog post is what?

Me: Have we not covered this before? A blog post I can shoot off in 15 minutes while simul-texting with three people is not writing. It’s therapy.

…mostly on purpose. I am trying to reflect, regroup, refocus. Try to listen to that screaming inner child.

BTW, if you think it’s easy to listen to a screaming inner child, you are clearly childless. Those of you who have survived colic, toddler tantrums, and teenage angst know exactly what I mean.

She’s so fucking loud, she’s splitting my eardrums, and I know I’m supposed to love her, but right now? I hate her and I wish she’d move out.

V.

Have tried to read:

Prince Hafiz’s Only Vice by Susanne Carr. I read page one. Then skipped to the last chapter. Spoiler: they got together. True Thing: I really, really, really WISH I had been able to read through the damn thing. How hard could it be? I asked myself. Fucking read it. Enjoy. Relax. Chill.

But I just can’t. Prince Hafiz and his one true vice do NOTHING for me.

On my kitchen table:

Gap Of Time: the Winter’s Tale Retold by Jeanette Winterson. I’m not going to read it. I have opened it and flipped through it half-heartedly. I love Jeanette… I love Shakespeare… but if you’re going to try to one-up Shakespeare, you’ve got to be fucking brilliant. And Jeanette is often brilliant. But this time, she is just… good.

Good enough.

Just not good enough for me to sink into right now. I’m sorry. Jeanette, I’m so sorry. I’m going to try to get Sean to read it, and tell me about it, ok?

Also on my kitchen table:

G.K. Chesterton’s Complete Father Brown. Which I’m re-reading in bits and pieces intermittently to distract myself from the screaming.

(Inner child.)

(In my head.)

(Because listening is hard work.)

VI.

nbtb-notebook-in-red

I’m having a staring contest with something that’s either an idea or a deep-seated neurosis and…

Ender: Mom, can you peel this orange for me?

Jane: I’m busy right now, love, in a bit.

Ender: You’re sitting there staring at the wall!

Jane: I’m thinking!

Ender: Can’t you think while peeling my orange?

It seems like a fair request, right?

It makes me livid.

I peel the orange anyway.

VII.

Sometimes, words—shy words, trite words, words so true they sound clichéd because they have been said in that precise way so often because they are so true (I know exactly I did there, so give your high school English grammar textbook some Fentanyl and don’t resuscitate it until I’m finished)—sometimes, words like to come out only when it’s very dark and very quiet.

Like these words:

My smallest son, tucked
into my right arm pit, a whisper,
“You will never know.”
“Never know what?”
“Never know how much I love you.”
“I know.”
“No. You will never know.”
A kiss. My whisper,
“I love you more.”
“No. I love you more.”
A dark night.
“Impossible.”
“True.”
A heartbeat, rapid,
rhythm of a hummingbird,
breath steady, gentler than a whisper.
A sleep.
Asleep, my smallest son,
In my right arm pit,
I whisper,
“You will never know,”
He answers
with a hummingbird’s snore.

I capture them with my iPhone, left-thumb typing (the right thumb imprisoned under the body of my son).

I think it’s a poem; I call it, “Good Night.”

xoxo

“Jane”

The undocumented year

The book is called Adventures in Love, Life, and Laughter, and it’s the book Ender wants to read at bedtime. He just ‘stole’ it from Flora’s room, where she’s been going to bed with it for weeks. I’m pleased and terrified—the book is a photo-blog combo of Nothing By The Book’s 2011 posts and Sean’s photographs of the children.

“How old was I?” Ender asks as he looks for himself in every picture. “How old was Flora? How old was Cinder?”

“Two,” I say. “You were two. Here, you must be about two a half. Here… mmm, I think it’s just before your third birthday.”

“What’s this story? Read me this story,” he asks, and I do, and sometimes he loves them, and sometimes he cringes. “I never did that!”

You did, my darling, you did, I think.

But I don’t say.

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I have a book like that for every year, from 2005, through to 2013. I produced them as Christmas gifts for the grandparents and family—and myself—and now I know they are mostly for my children. I didn’t manage to create 2014—it sits on my computer still as an unproofed file—and Flora was so disappointed, I know I must make that book for her, and soon.

Sean put 2015 together for me as a Christmas present—it exists as an electronic file only. We must print it.

And now, 2016 is coming to an end, and I am looking back at it, and realizing my children are about to experience their first undocumented year.

Oh, not exactly, of course. The first three months of the year, the time we spent in Cuba, are documented up-the-wazoo—I’m not finished with the postcards yet—just with Havana. Our time in the fishing village/Varadero bedroom community of Boca de Camarioca is still to be released, over January-February-March 2017—bringing the story full circle and to a close. When I am done, I will put all of that together for the kids into a beautiful book.

But in the nine months of 2016 I’ve spent in Canada, my ‘real time’ posts have been rare and sporadic… and as I look back at the year, I have an eerie sense of an undocumented year. Even my Instagram—my back-up visual documentation (I am a writer: documenting in words is always my first choice) is sparse.

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There are very good reasons for this lack of documentation. Producing the Postcards took much more time than just writing a ‘here’s the weird shit my kids said this week’ post takes. And the project felt so important to me, and so urgent: it was a high creative priority. I was also deeply immersed in other writing projects that again were—felt—urgent and important, and I focused my energy on them.

(Priorities, baby!)

And also… more and more often, the children are now my blog co-producers and… censors.

“Don’t write about that,” gets said in my house more and more often.

Actually, it’s more like:

“Don’t you fucking dare write about that!”

Jane: But it’s important!

“That’s why! It’s private!”

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Important. Private.

If you’ve been following my writing on life-and-parenthood since I became a mother in 2002, you will have noticed that this awareness—my recognition that increasingly, my documentation was invading my children’s privacy, and my struggle with that—has crept up on me slowly. I think it resulted in an unconscious shift, initially, into a more internal perspective. Flora doesn’t want you to know what she said or did, OK—but I have all these FEELINGS about it… and these feelings are my own, and I want to explore them and document them… which makes for a much more introspective, and much less amusing, way of writing than a piece on “House Rule #713, or, why we don’t have a lot of dinner parties.”

Important. Private.

The Internet and social media have created a fascinating world in which we don’t think things are important unless they are shared… and re-shared… and re-shared. Yet, after all… the most important things are… private.

And these too should be documented—for the people they matter to. And not thrown, naked, before the eyes of the world.

I started journaling again, privately, in 2014. I now have dozens (literally: 26 that I see from where I’m sitting right now, and at least two or three more tucked away elsewhere) of notebooks filled with barely legible long-hand that document all the things that are important—and private—to me.

Inside those private journals, there is a sub-body of work that is first drafts of posts, essays, articles, poems, novels.

Art. Which will be shared. After it is refined, revised.

Perhaps, censored, a little. Because… privacy is important. And the only things that are private are the things that are unshared.

So.

My undocumented year—it is not so undocumented, really. But the most important parts of it… they’re private.

And this is a good thing.

I think it’s important to consider that just because something can be shared—said—posted—doesn’t mean it should be. Sometimes, it is enough for a photograph just to be taken. A thought to be had. Written and slipped into a drawer.

Sharing is not an imperative.

It’s a choice—and it should be a conscious choice.

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*

So. What does this mean for Nothing By The Book in 2017?

I don’t know.

I think my biggest and most important task is to figure out how to document my children’s childhood for them without betraying them—and I can’t tell MY story without telling their story, right? We are so entwined. So that’s a challenge I will need to navigate as I write life.

I am creating and trying to figure out a whole new career at the moment, and that’s fascinating and amazing—but also something that I want to occur completely off the pages of Nothing By The Book. Which creates another censor and strain. How can one write honestly and meaningfully… when there are so many fucking censors involved?

I am also struggling with the nightmare of TOO MUCH CONTENT. As we enter 2017—and Facebook turns 13, Twitter 11, and Instagram 7 (the parallels between the ages of these social media and my children’s ages are hilarious)—we enter a world in which everyone is writing and talking… and too few people are reading and listening. You know this is true. Those of us who ‘produce’ (a telling word) ‘content’ (ditto) scan posts and articles not to understand what is going on but to get material for the shit we’re going to write and say.

This is a dysfunctional situation.

We’re all talking and writing. And there is so much STUFF being thrown at us to read-listen to-watch. TOO MUCH CONTENT. We know this, we feel this, we are overwhelmed… and at the same time, we suffer from that fear-of-missing-out thing… and we’re so rushed and crushed, we talk in acronyms. OMFG. FOMO. YOLO. TTYL.

Ugh.

Every time I release a post… I feel I’m part of the problem.

What would happen… what would happen if I just shut up for a while… and listened?

*

I don’t know.

I don’t even know if I’m capable of shutting up. 😉 Silence is very difficult.

*

instagram-l-leaves

This is very, very important (and not private, so I will tell you):

Before you tell stories, you need to listen.

You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories about. You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories for. You need to listen to your inner story teller too. What’s up with her and why does she want to tell this story?

And I think you need to have the courage to ask… is this story worth telling? Worth sharing?

I don’t think the answer is always ‘yes.’

You: It’s my story and I’ll share it if I want to.

Jane: That is, of course, your prerogative, always.

The freedom we are now offered, the extent to which we are able to share ourselves, our lives, our work—our innermost secrets!—is immense.

And powerful.

But.

I don’t know.

instagram-l-tarot

I am talking in circles now, and I am not taking you towards closure.

I should just shut up and listen.

Ender: Read me the book?

Jane: Ok, baby. Which one?

Ender: The one about me and my brother and sister.

Oh boy.

Mixed messages. Mixed messages.

2017, what am I going to do?

Merry All-The-Holidays, and may 2017 bring you many beautiful things… and the occasional gift of silence.

xoxo

“Jane”

Postcards From Cuba

2016 Posts that weren’t Postcards From Cuba

indulgent interlude (May 15, 2016)

journeys, birthdays, gratitude (May 24, 2016)

interlude: a perfectly ordinary monday (June 20, 2016)

Party in purgatory (July 14, 2016)

The price of flow (July 27 2016)

Frida Kahlo was a selfie master (August 10, 2016)

Hate and love, Frida and Hamlet, also, inspiration (August 17, 2016)

Expiration date (August 23, 2016)

Too. Much. Noise. (August 31, 2016)

A passion for learning and for life: unschooling and worldschooling in practice (September 6, 2016)

Proofing, planning, priorities, postcards (November 2, 2016)

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interlude: a perfectly ordinary monday

Prologue

It was a Monday, and I want to tell you about that Monday on this Monday, because there was absolutely nothing special about it.

And it was marvelous.

I.

I woke up squeezed, the cement between Ender’s sticky stinky back—Christ, that child needs a bath and a reminder to change his shirt—and his father’s cool front, his hot breath on my neck. Stretched, opened eyes, closed them. It was a Monday, I knew, and I could wake up now, go make coffee, start writing… or wait, wait, stay tucked in-between the sheets and my loves, and Sean’s alarm would go off, and he’d get up, sigh, stretch—then meander up the stairs, make the coffee before heading up to the shower.

What do you think I did?

interlude-within-interlude

I love waking up to made coffee. I love making coffee too—my relationship with the black drug is both dysfunctional and erotic—but I love having it made for me more.

II.

The coffee was just ready to be pressed when I walked into the kitchen. I kissed Sean’s neck, then cheek. Poured that first cup, body taut with anticipation. Oh, yes. The smell.

Then—cinnamon. Cardamom. Liquid whipped cream—never, ever, love, offer me skim milk or diary substitute for my coffee. No, nor half-and-half—if we are to sin, let us sin fully, never in tepid, dietary half-measures.

Then I wrote.

Three pages of shit. Really. There were, in those three pages, two, three good sentences and one decent phrase—and three or four paragraphs that, down the line, may become a good chapter. But, generally… shit.

Three pages of it.

It happens like that sometimes.

III.

Sean needed me to drive him to work, but that’s not why he brought me a second cup of coffee—cinnamon, cardamom, whipped cream added, but of course—and when I drank it—pen scratching paper, one dull sentence after another—I felt so loved I think I managed to write a phrase that didn’t suck.

We left the house at 8:40, leaving the younger two eating cereal and chips and salsa in the living room while watching age inappropriate Netflix programming.

We drove in silence. I don’t like to talk in the morning—there are too many thoughts to speak. I was back at 9:04. Flora and Ender were still eating and consuming How I Met Your Mother. “Today’s our binge day, right?” Ender checked in. I nodded. Poured a third cup of coffee. Cardamom. Cinnamon.

Fuck, out of whipped cream.

life hack

Time is perhaps my most precious commodity—and it is not that I do not have enough time—I have as much of it as you, as everyone: twenty-four precious hours in every precious day, seven days in every week, and 30 to 31 days a month, except in February…

And I work very diligently at not being overscheduled or rushed, at not overscheduling or rushing my family.

I work, quite creatively, I think, at finding ways to make my time work for me, for them.

“Binge days” are one of my tools. On Mondays and Thursdays, I outsource parenting to the iPads and laptops. The kids can watch, play anything all day (the rest of the week, we are screen-free until after supper). I don’t make breakfast, lunch, snacks—I am effectively unavailable to the children until 4, 4:30 when I will make them supper… although it will probably be hot dogs or ramen noodles. Those are the days that I sink into my work… or leave the house, meet friends, occasionally roam the streets aimlessly for hours—that too is part of the process.

III.

I drank the coffee black while revising and rehearsing “If Nikita Krushchev had to wash a bra in Cuba.” The children were quiet so I thought I’d record it—but Sean had taken the laptop with Adobe Audition to work, so no, that wouldn’t work… what next? Another postcard, “Homesick,” yes, this one needed more work, a lot more work, and there was a piece missing—did I not write down a conversation I had with Lazaro—he asked me, “Do you miss home,” and I said… where is it?

Found it. Yes.

I don’t usually clean on binge days but on this Monday, the house looked the way Eastern Europe did when the Mongols rode through it on a thirteenth century Sunday, so on the way upstairs to pee, I swept the living room and asked the kids to pick up those things from the dust pile they did not want to end up in the garbage. After peeing, I cleaned the bathroom—because I was there, and because the Mongols had been there too.

explanation

Marie’s elder two boys were visiting Cinder the week prior (and the week that would follow). There was much joy. And really, comparatively controlled destruction. But having four boys (I absolve the man from blame) pee in one bathroom for however many days straight… no way was I going to have a shower or bath until I cleaned it thoroughly.

And also, lit some incense…

IV.

I read “Homesick” again, revised it a little, saw that you texted, decided to ignore you while I thought about what was wrong with “Homesick,” got hungry.

Made fava beans for myself and helped Ender make a cheese tortilla with salsa—washed dishes while the beans cooked—thought about a woman named Molly Jones and someone  currently represented in the manuscript as [S.C./X]—asked the kids if they needed anything—chopped parsley and cilantro, got it all over the floor but did not clean it up.

Ate while reading Gut: The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders, and I think you might enjoy reading it too.

Texted you, then got a great idea for how to illustrate “Homesick,” and that entailed taking a photograph of… did I know where it was, I did, found it, did it.

Ate one more spoonful of my fava bean mush.

Remembered that while I was writing my shitty morning pages I was thinking that I was running out of clothes and that if I wanted to have socks to wear for tomorrow, I ought to put in a load of laundry, so I went upstairs to start the water running for my bath, and then ran downstairs to put in a load of my clothes.

Made it upstairs before the tub overflowed, and that made me so happy.

Bath, in the dark, incense. No candles today.

True story: no one interrupted me while I bathed. Not a single one of the children needed to pee, vomit or brush their teeth.

It was glorious.

I had an idea.

I didn’t write it down. But it stayed.

insight

I’ve been reading a little, again, about writers and writing—journaling and writing practice in particular, because, I don’t know, I’m stuck, bored? Something’s coming—I feel restless and unsettled, and I have these two, three projects in hand right now, but I think something else is coming, and I’m not sure I have the tools… where was I?

I’ve been reading a little, again, about writers and writing—which is procrastination disguised as professional development—and among the things the gurus are in agreement about is that you must write things down, have notebooks, pencils (phones with notepad apps) about you at all times to jot down ideas, inspiration. I don’t know, I guess it doesn’t hurt…

But the good ideas, they stay. In fact, they refuse to leave, the invasive, demanding, clamorous bastards.

Clamorous is a nice word. Try to use it today in a casual conversation; better yet, at a board room table.

V.

Took the neglected dog for a walk. Flora came with. The weather was blustery; we were happy.

I had a lot of thoughts.

The dog found some disgusting garbage to eat—a piece of meat tied around a string, what the fuck—and I had to ram my hand down her throat to pull it out, yuck, yuck, gross—so grateful Flora was with me so that she could open doors for me as I ran into the house to wash my disgusting hand.

“Don’t say you hate the dog,” Flora forestalled me.

“OK,” I agreed. But I thought it.

unsolicited advice

Dogs and children do not go together. This is a horrible myth perpetuated by Hollywood? 1950s children’s books? Something. I don’t know. Please, for the love of the dog you are going to neglect, listen to me: if you are pregnant, if you are planning to have children soon—if you have small children: DO NOT GET A DOG.

It’s fine. I know you’re not going to listen. When you do get your dog, and neglect it, and don’t particularly love it, come back and let me say, “I told you so.”

Marie, by the way, I totally blame you. You should have stopped me.

VI.

Sat down and wrote for 75 minutes straight. Fucking gold. Every word worth keeping.

Well. Ok, 25 per cent of them would be cut later. In the moment, though—I was 100 per cent satisfied.

As a result, I decided to make the children mashed potatoes and breaded chicken cutlets for dinner, instead of the Mr. Noodles Ramen they were probably expecting.

Thought about you, a little. Of course I did. Listened to Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking while peeling the potatoes and seasoning the chicken.

Finally cleaned the muffin in which I had made Eggs A La Janine last weekend, and ugh, it was disgusting.

a recipe: eggs a la Janine

If you ever want to feed six to twelve people piping hot bacon and eggs that are all ready at the same time, you will need a dozen (or two eggs), as many slices of bacon as you have eggs, and a muffin tin (or two).

Cut a bit off each bacon slice—just enough to fit in the bottom of each muffin hole. Put that bit in the bottom, then take the rest of the slice and put it inside the hole: yes, you’ve just made a muffin cup out of bacon. Repeat with all your bacon slices… and now break an egg into each cup.

Bake for 12-20 minutes (depending on how set you like your eggs) at 350 degrees. Yum.

VII.

When Sean came home, we ate very quickly, did a half-ass job of cleaning the kitchen, and ran to listen to some people talk about art.

When we came home, we talked about art some more. Read books to the still-awake kids—dammit, sometimes, when we go out at night, they put themselves to bed, but no, that Monday they waited for us.

Scratch that dammit. It was lovely.

Then, sex.

Sleep.

*

Epilogue

Later that week—it was on a Saturday—I would meet a woman named Karen Pheasant who came into my life solely to tell me that she lived a creative non-fiction life.

Me too, sister. Me too.

The artists talking about art didn’t talk about this, but another artist—also a zoologist—calls art making the extra-ordinary out of the ordinary.*

I like that definition. Mostly.

Except… if you really pay attention to things… is anything ever ordinary?

So then… is everything art?

So then, I thought about you and all the things I hadn’t told you since the last time I saw you.

Here you go. They are all contained in the story of this one monday.

Isn’t that extra-ordinary?

“Jane”

Cigar Smoke Selfie Modified

journeys, birthdays, gratitude

The next Postcard From Cuba comes tomorrow; today, my eldest son turns 14; today, it is 14 years since I was first called mother by the world.

14 years since I learned how to love.

14 years on this journey, my little love…

…little boy with a man’s voice, a man’s shoulders—already taller than me, and he’s only just started growing…

Happiest of birthdays, son.

CinderCollageFinal

*

In the photographs I take of my children, while I’m documenting their journey, our journey, I often take this angle, have you noticed:

JourneyStripGrunge

This is very, very important.

Walk on, my son.

Every step you take is your journey, not mine.

Every step I take is mine, not yours.

*

A few days before my son turned 14, I turned 42. Compared to 14, 42 is insignificant—it’s just a number. But, of course, if you are a Douglas Adams’ fan, you know 42 is the answer. I can’t wait…

Flora: “Congratulations, Mom, you’re one year closer to death.”

Jane: “Thank you, babe. I cannot wait.”

Not true, of course—I say that to tease. But this, this is true: I cannot wait for the next year, for the next decade. Do you remember, it wasn’t raining but it felt like it should have been, and you were so unhappy, and he was dying, and you said that thing you sometimes say about us getting older and closer to the end and I shook my head, “Fuck no, me, I’m just getting started.”

That’s tied into that motherhood thing, 14 years of.

You sent me so many birthday wishes.

I sent you gratitude:

BirthdayThankYou

*

You know, do you not, that everything I write is a love letter to my children? To you? On the days when I am feeling particularly human, the world?

Today’s love letter, though, is just for my son.

Happiest of birthdays, you incredible human.

xoxo

“Jane”

*

So you know the spiel that follows & if you’re reading and you haven’t yet  put a PayPal click where your heart is, it was just my birthday last week, d’ya wanna buy me a birthday coffee?

Trio on benches at laundry park3

The best things in life and on the Internet are free, but content creators need to pay for groceries with money. If you enjoy the Postcards project, please express your delight and support by making a donation via PayPal:

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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.

Or, ya know. Just hang out with us and enjoy. That be cool too.

xoxo

“Jane”

NothingByTheBook.com / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

*

#postcardsfromcuba catch up

I was in Cuba before Obama. And I want to tell you all about it… in pictures… in words… through sound:

PfC: introduction

So, I introduce the project, and then…
…I shower you with pictures:

PfC: I haven’t found a post office yet… (image)
PfC: what are you looking at? (image)
PfC: Acuario Nacional de Cuba (image)
PfC: zombie Fiat (image)
PfC: sharp edges & powerlines (image)

Then (drum roll, please) release the first listening postcard:

PfC: blame it on Hemingway (post + photographs + podcast)

It’s not really about Hemingway, but you know, #hemingway is a good hashtag.

Next I show you:

PfC: the ugliest building in Havana (image)

& then I teach you some

PfC: Cuban math (post + photographs + podcast) & I also pick up / get picked up by a 25 year old Cuban boy. Seriously. Check it out, and then check out

PfC: this is also Havana (image)

& find out why I’m going to hell:

PfC: Necropolis (images + riffs)

after which you can watch how the entire country of Cuba is trying to prevent me from buying eggs:

PfC: egg hunt (post + photographs + podcast)

then try to figure out what this photo’s all about:

PfC: the view from here (image)

& then pray for me. Just pray:

PfC: we will survive (post + photographs + podcast)

Thank you. Now come with me to a beach. No, not that kind of the beach. The kind of beach that isn’t kept pristine for tourists:

PfC: but you’re not going to make us swim there, are you? (image)

& now you’ve got to meet Jack Gilbert, and understand what having children (in Cuba, anywhere) really means:

PfC: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet (post + photographs + podcast)

Now, have a look at a haunted house:

PfC: haunted house (image)

& then cringe as I explain to Flora the relationship between poverty and crime:

PfC: but is it safe? (post + photographs + podcast)

Then meditate on this photo

PfC: through bent bars (image)

& listen to me try to buy matches:

PfC: matches (post + totally unrelated photographs + podcast)

then take on a hustler:

PfC: get out of my dreams get into my car & pay me 2.5X the going rate pls (images + riff)

& then fall in love:

PfC: Lazaro’s farm (post + photographs + podcast)

and then decompress with:

PfC: a splash of orange, three versions (images)

Now get ready to get all political and cultural with:

PfC: flora, fauna + waiting (post+ images + podcast)

then look at pretty things:

PfC: behind closed eyelids (images)

& take a ride…

PfC: on the bus (short podcast + post + images)

to explore a castle: PfC: castillo means castle (slideshow + postcard images)

& look at some boats.

And how you’re caught up.

Until next tomorrow.

indulgent interlude

I.

The north end of Fort McMurray is still burning; in my neighbourhood, pop-up bake sales, drop-off centers on front yards, people who know loss too well coordinating delivery of strollers, car seats, clothes, toys. They remember—they feel lucky—they feel re-traumatized—they feel they need to be doing something, and so they do.

I feel not too much, am working quite hard to keep it academic, just-over-there, make a donation, spread the word, move on, don’t get too involved—suddenly, it becomes a little too personal, but he’ll be safe, we’ll help you, it’s what needs to be done, routine, & don’t think too much about the dislocated, politicians’ photo-ops…

Life goes on. Life goes on and other joys and other tragedies go on too—I’m so sorry about your loss—and you’re still making art—and you got your grant, but it’s not enough—don’t worry, that much, we can help you raise, give me five minutes and I will start knocking on doors, life has to go.

Then, self-indulgent moments. I wrap myself in them, cherish them, they are my life-preserver, are they not yours?

Interlude4

II.

On Friday, if you were skulking about in my alley, you would have heard:

Jane: “Ender, for fuck’s sake child, I love you. I love you more than life itself, but if you do not give me a little bit of physical space right now, only one of us will live.”

Cinder: “I think Mom needs a hug.”

Jane: “Get. Away. From. Me. And. Stop. Touching. Me!”

But I laughed. And they all lived. Then, I took them into the woods to run, with you, her, your kids, and hers. They took one wrong turn and got lost for a while, an exciting adventure, yet utterly safe.

It was good.

Interlude3

III.

On Tuesday, we ended up with a crèche of nine children, and then 10, how did that happen? I am not so good at math, but that seems two, three more than yours and mine combined…

…that’s a village, that is good.

In a few weeks, I will send you a postcard from Cuba about community—how I didn’t have it at all in Havana, how shocked and grateful I was when it rose around me in Boca—what I learned from it all. Shorthand: I am so grateful for you, her, him; I am never alone.

Interlude1

IV.

On Wednesday, Thursday, all I really want is to be alone, totally completely alone, can you all stop asking me to do shit for you?

Then I feel selfish.

Then, I embrace my self and take her into the places that fill her.

Do you know what that means?

On Saturday… I write.

 

xoxo

self-indulgently yours,

“Jane”

PS: If you are in yyc, here are some things to keep an eye on:

  • Calgary artist Amy Dryer’s new show, Algonquin, is on at the Masters Gallery May 12 to 21st. Go. 2115 4th St SW (Combine with a visit to Yann’s Patisserie, and bring me back one of those pistachio-cherry things, K?)

Interlude2

  • On July 22 & 23, Calgary hosts the first ever Canadian International Fashion Film Festival (#canifff) (that’s three fff’s) (not two). I was fortunate enough to be at the media launch (on Thursday) and it is going to be uber-cool. Film submissions are still open AND they’re looking for volunteers: check it out: CANIFF.com
  • Fairy Tales, Canada’s third largest queer film festival, runs May 20-28, with most of the action in my fabulous neighbourhood of Kensington / Sunnyside. In addition to the films, I think you need to check out the Calgary Men’s Choir Grease Sing Along—because, well, Grease Lightening! Also, the Queer Youth Media Gala is very much worth supporting.

*

Postcards From Cuba, at least partially fueled by rum and cigars, resume Monday.

Slideshow: Chasing Lung Cancer, Unedited Series

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*

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smooches,

J.

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #11

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

A conversation:

Sean: You know what a good job for Flora would be? Designing coins for the Canadian mint.

Flora: Yeah, that would be pretty cool. I bet I’d be good at that.

Cinder: Please, please, please, if you do get that job, please, please, please design a coin with a penis on it.

Flora: Um… how about if I design a coin with your face on it?

Cinder: No, do one with a penis.

Flora: You’d be more famous if I designed a coin with your face on it.

Cinder: I’d rather be famous for my penis.

Zeus help me.

July 29, 2012

 

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Hafiz. But not just any rendition of Hafiz. Daniel Ladinsky’s Hafiz. Start with Ladinksy’s The Gift.

A taste:

Those kisses you sent, I found them wandering
around the house. They were acting a little
lost, not knowing exactly where I was.

I was busy upstairs. But now we are all having
tea and talking about you, and wishing you
were here.

And they imparted all you intended. They did
well.

One more thing: I have seen you at your best
and at your worst; still you are always welcome
near me.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of being cynical:

Hafiz makes me fall in love with the world, and so, while you’re reading Hafiz this week, I want you to write about loving the world. Through the week, carry a handful of index cards and a pen with you, and whenever you see something you love, whip out a card and write about it.

And when you see someone you love, tell them you love them. And then, write about what it felt like.

(I know, I’m totally going soft. It’s Hafiz…)

 

An explanation:

This is the eleventh week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

Biking as a metaphor for life

first published on June 5, 2012

We’re out on our bikes all the time again, and we’re a bit of a gong-show―Ender, Maggie the rat, er, runt Terrier in the biggest bicycle ever (this one), Cinder on his snake bike, Flora on a bike she can barely lift―but needs to ride instead of the little one she can handle because that’s the only way she can keep up with her big brother. Cinder’s usually up ahead, Flora chases him for a while then falls back to ride with me. Ender squeals with delight and Maggie squeals with terror. And I get all sappy, watching them ride, and remembering that it wasn’t that long ago that I had both Cinder and Flora in a trailer behind me… and then Cinder on training wheels… and then Cinder on a little bike…

When Cinder dropped his training wheels and we started going for longer bike rides, I noticed one day how we were usually riding–he in front, setting the pace, going like a madman at first, then slower and slower, and me behind, pulling his sister in the trailer, keeping an eye on the path and possible obstacles, the two of us occasionally stopping to talk, then moving on…

And I was earnestly, sappily, struck with how we biked was so reflective of how I saw parenting and learning and living and all of that.

 And I got so in love with this metaphor, and started writing it out in more detail in my head and developing it into a huge life-changing thesis that I was going to write up for one of my yahoo groups or an article or maybe an entire book … that I stopped paying attention to the path and the real universe around me and I rode right into a post.

Lesson learned?

Nope. I’m cycling hard, chasing Cinder, keeping an eye on Flora, restraining Maggie, chatting to Ender, but my mind again turns the moment into a metaphor and a story―and bam!

It might even have been the same lightpost.

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Here we are after conquering a hill in Waterton Lakes National Park. Ender’s napping in the baby seat and missing the view.

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #10

A conversation:

Jane: I don’t understand. I don’t understand how two people who love each other as much as I know you two do can fight so much!

Flora: Oh, Mom. Don’t worry. We’re just like Sadie and Carter. (Sadie and Carter Kane, from The Kane Chronicles.)

Cinder: Yeah, we fight all the time…

Flora: … but we cooperate when it matters.

Cinder: Yeah, we’d totally work together to save the world. Right, Flora?

Flora: Right… Ouch! Why’d you punch me?

Cinder: The world is not in peril right now.

June 15, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 7.08.45 PM

Preview the book’s insights on BrainPickings: How kindness became our guilty pleasure.

 

A writing exercise (that is also a secret discipline tool) to do instead of breaking up the latest fight between your kids:

Script the next fight between your kids. Then have them act it out. Present the play to your partner when s/he gets home.

Variant: the next time your kids are fighting, whip out your notebook or laptop and start transcribing

 

An explanation:

This is the tenth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

First published July 30, 2013

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea… Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the cafe is always fresh.)

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #9

A conversation:

Cinder: I like being nine. Halfway to 18.

Jane: Excited about being able to vote?

Cinder: What? No–excited about being able to own a gun!

(I might have gone horribly wrong somewhere here…)

May 24, 2011

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Louise De Salvo’s The Art of Slow Writing.

It’s a slow read… not exciting… but. Useful.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of doing the laundry:

What are you wearing? What do you wish you were wearing? What does that sanctimonious woman standing behind you on the subway platform think about each outfit? Is she just thinking this… or is she one of those people who’s gonna tell you what she thinks, good or bad?

Use lots of mind-dialogue.

 

An explanation:

This is the ninth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

 Mittens

first published January 1, 2014

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

He plops down on the sled in a Buddha pose.

“Mittens?”

I ask, kneeling down beside him.

“No! My hands are NOT cold!”

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

I shrug. Get up. Start pulling the sled.

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

“Mittens?”

“No.”

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

I turn around.

“Mittens?”

“No. Not cold.”

Mittens Pin

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

“Mittens?”

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

“Mittens?”

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

“Mittens?” I repeat.

“No.”

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

I look over my shoulder…

“Mittens?”

“Not! Cold!”

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

“Mom? My hands are cold.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck, yeah, it’s a metaphor.

Jane

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

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

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

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

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise guru, and a re-run #6

A conversation:

I walk into the living room to see Ender and Cinder sitting around my old non-functioning Mac Book, its keyboard in pieces, and Cinder wedging one of the panels on the body open.

Cinder: Hi Mom.
Jane: What are you doing?
Cinder: Ender and I wanted to see what the inside of a computer looked like. Don’t worry–this is the broken old one. … Um… was this one of those things I should have asked permission for?
Jane: Um… yeah, probably.
Cinder: Would you have said yes?
Jane: Um… well…
Cinder: See, when I think you might say no, I don’t want to ask permission.

May 27, 2012

 A reading assignment that will change your life:

Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnets. Especially Sonnet XII.

Full woman, fleshly apple, hot moon
thick smell of seaweed, crushed mud and light,
what obscure brilliance opens between your columns?
What ancient night does a man touch with his senses?

Loving is a journey with water and with stars,
with smothered air and abrupt storms of flour:
loving is a clash of lightning-bolts
and two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

Kiss by kiss I move across your small infinity,
your borders, your rivers, your tiny villages
and the genital fire transformed into delight

runs through the narrow pathways of the blood
until it plunges down, like a dark carnation,
until it is and is no more than a flash in the night.

Delicious… Now… is he talking about a woman… or Chile?  And does it matter?

A writing exercise (guru):

I want to introduce you to Sarah Selecky and her writing exercises at SarahSelecky.com. One of the favourite prompts of hers was “write four scenes involving walnuts.” So. Do that today, right now: four scenes involving walnuts. And then, check out Sarah’s various offerings—maybe sign up for her daily writing prompts?

P.S. You’re still doing Morning Pages, right? Right?

An explanation:

This is the sixth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

A re-run:

Ferocious Five

For all the mothers of five-year-old girls, current and coming-up-on-five, in my life.

From Life’s Archives, January 27, 2007

Flora is five years and three weeks old today—the three weeks is important, as important as the “half” was when she was four and a half. She’s just come off a very long—for our healthy, active girl—illness, almost two weeks of intermittent fever, sore throat and cough, sniffles and overall body aches, with two days of puking thrown in at the start just for fun. She’s physically well now, but weak. And fragile. Each of her nerves and emotions is exposed to the harsh air of every day life, and the smallest of life’s trials rub her raw and send her spiraling into misery.

It’s driving us mad.

We’ve been here before with her. She celebrated turning two by being sad for three weeks, non-stop. (Funny thing about time: at the time, we thought it was months. Perhaps an entire year. Fortunately, I keep records. It was three weeks on the dot, 21 days of almost incessant crying, over everything.) Between three and four—and especially on either side of three and a half—life thwarted her at every step and she barely survived (us too). At four and a half there was a brief—six days, but oh dear god what a six days—reprisal.

So this is Take Four of Flora being uber-fragile, and I’m trying very hard to approach it as a yet another opportunity handed to me by the universe to crack the Flora code. (We successfully cracked the Cinder code when he was two [this post is coming to the blog Archives soon!] and haven’t been significantly challenged in our interpretation of it since then; Flora is proving to be more complex. Perhaps we women really are.) However hard, each take has offered amazing insights and lessons. The first time around, when she was two and in tears, the lesson to us was simple. Happiness comes from within. We cannot make her happy or peaceful—it is not, indeed, our responsibility to make her happy. The best we can do is provide a certain type of environment, some coping tools—but the only one who can make Flora happy (or not) is Flora.

The lesson of Take Two was more nebulous, and it wasn’t really about Flora. It was about me and you (yes, you, the reading you, the you walking past my yard, the you I pass on the park path, the you paying a visit to my house while she’s having a meltdown). In a nutshell, it was: you don’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter, your reaction to Flora or to my reaction to Flora or to anything else that’s happening right now in Flora’s world doesn’t matter. Sorry. You don’t want to hear that, but I need to remind myself of it, throw you out of my mind, and focus on me and Flora. Then, I need to put me to the side—I’ll come back to me later, recharge, re-examine, ponder exactly why I was feeling the way I was and wanting to react the way I was, I’ll do all that, but later.

Right now, with you and me out of the way, I need to focus on Flora, I need to help her cope, work out some tools that she can use to help find herself, work through whatever inner turmoil she’s experiencing right now, and come back to a place of balance. This moment is all about her, and I need to surrender to that first. Only then can I help her… and maybe helping her just means being there while she can’t help herself. And then, when there is a moment when she wants and needs and is open to help—then, I step in. Without my baggage, without making this about me—much less you—but just her.

This lesson is much harder than calculus and I’m still studying it, reviewing it, intermittently failing it, because, at least some of the time, I want you to approve of my and my child and my parenting.

Flora—the current, five year old Flora—is stirring on the couch beside me now making whimpering unhappy noises as she wakes up from a quasi-nap, and I’m revisiting the second part of the lesson. Not about me. About her. What does she need? (Part of me says, a kick in the head.) Apparently, she says, her whole self covered with the blanket. Translation: control over her surroundings.

Take Three’s lesson was simple, so long as Take Two’s lesson was mastered. Repeat: it’s not about you or me. It’s about her. In capital letters: It’s about HER. Between three and five, children are as purely and completely selfish as selfish can be. They’re not psychotic, unsocialized, undisciplined: they just are. Purely, beautifully selfish. The world is all about them, and that’s all that matters to them.

This can suck to the rest of us having to live in the world alongside them. Until, that is, we realize that developmentally speaking, this is normal and inevitable… and it is possible to “work” with it. Asking a child in that stage to do something—or stop doing something, or, ha!, feeling something—because of the effect it has on other people is a recipe for frustration. They can’t comply: they don’t hear you. Oh, they can learn to fake complicity through coercive discipline. But they don’t get it. The world is about them.

At four and half, and into five, I know this. Flora’s world is all about her. In retrospect, on either side of five, Cinder’s world was all about him too. But he manifested it in a different way and it was easier to live with. It was all about doing stuff. For Flora, it’s about feeling stuff. Waaay more complex.

So, here we are in Take Four. Obviously, for me, part of the lesson here is a remedial review of Take Two. It’s not about me. It’s all about her. This part, I’m doing pretty well on. I need to work a little bit more on the fact that you don’t matter. And also, I need to flip the fact that it’s not about me on its head. I actually need to make it about me: that is, seize each of these moments as an opportunity to work on ME. MY response. MY feelings and MY expression of them. MY understanding. What am I doing in this moment and why, and can I be the me in this moment that I want to be? Can I be that me just a little bit longer? One more minute? Another after that?

People pay big money for transcendental moments like this: they go to workshops, retreats, read books, meditate… and lucky me, motherhood is delivering these life-changing, self-reflecting opportunities to me just about every day…

I wrote this post more than two years ago. Flora is now seven and three and a half months—she could probably tell you her age precisely to the day, perhaps the hour. And while we are not in “Take Five,”  we are still learning our sensitive, fragile Flora. She’s learning us too—the selfishness of five is long gone, replaced by hyper-awareness to the feelings of others, and hyper-despair when they are negative. Sometimes, this hyper-awareness makes me long for the selfishness of five. But that’s a topic for a future post. 

Bust of Flora