Pandemic Diary: Pandemic Productivity Peccadillos

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

So I delay.

Wash the dishes.

Walk the dogs.

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

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

Not as much as I’d like.

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

But I do it. Kind of.

On most days.

Well, on some days.

Half the days?

Maybe most days. It depends.

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

But not really accomplish very much.

Question: would my supervisors notice?

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

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

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

Show up at the page.

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

Attention.

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

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

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

The imperfect but still pleasing rhythm of this sentence.

Practice, practice, practice paying attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right.

Slow as molasses. Stupid to boot.

Writing anyway.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

So I’m in the bath and…

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

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

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

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

Have a bath.

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

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

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

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

There we go.

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

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

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

Focus on yourself.

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

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

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

Less… dangerous.

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo

“Jane”

The portrait that defines us as a family right now…

Pandemic Diary: Three Generations

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

Three generations.

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

So.

Run away.

Three generations.

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

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

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

Three generations.

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

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

Flora: It won’t.

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

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

Everyone is loved.

Three generations.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

This happens yesterday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flora: More than you’d think
Like, 7

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

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

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

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

Flora: Bones.

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

Flora: Can’t you?

We don’t know.

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

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

Flora: Take me to another taxidermy store?

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

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

Fair enough.

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

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

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

Flora: Excited about that taxidermy dumpster diving experience?

Jane: You’d better believe it.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Instructions to Self

i

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

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

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

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

Write.

ii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work, dammit.

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

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

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

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

You can invoice soon.

The mark of a professional.

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

xoxo

“Jane”

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

Pandemic Diary: Sand in the well

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

…but, mercifully, eventually, it does.

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

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

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

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

Them: How have you been?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve called them in the past.

It’s gone like this:

Jane: Help.

Them: What’s happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane: Yes.

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

Jane: Sure. Take care of yourself.

Empath fatigue, kittens, It’s a thing.

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

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

Them: And you didn’t call me.

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

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

You: And how are you feeling today?

Jane: Fine. Thanks for asking. You?

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

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

I will work today.

I worked today.

Jane: Totally fine. Take care of yourself.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Adulting without desire looks like this

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

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

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

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

Keep moving.

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

What are you doing this Monday?

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: A meditation on desire

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

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

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

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

I am not.

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

I’m not.

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

I want.

I want what I can’t have.

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

I want.

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

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

And I love it.

It is perfect.

And yet—I still want… the other.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: On getting out of bed in the morning

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

Hide.

Hide from everything.

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

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

I just want to stay in bed.

Yawn. Sniff. Hide.

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

Maybe.

Try.

No.

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

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

Even when you don’t want to.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

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

Achoo.

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

Ouch.

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

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

Just read the comments.

(Don’t read the comments.)

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

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

You heard me. Six.

Maybe seven.

Chop.

Ouch.

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Achoo.

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

It’s time to work.

Achoo.

Ouch.

More coffee?

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: YYC Pride in Year One of the Pandemic

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

Ah, the good old days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: What is normal?

August 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me see. No.

Because none of it is normal.

Still.

It just is.

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, joy.

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

Good things, normal things. Happy moments.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

July 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Or not.

Fun and games. 😉

Yours in the struggle,

“Jane”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You: Navel-gaze much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Inman’s The Oatmeal, of course.

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

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

Oh. Matt.

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

Ouch. WTF?

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

from the The Wondrous Utility of Self-Loathing” section

 

Actually, yeah. That helps.

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

But especially, that. Thanks, Matt.

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

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

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

I don’t want to do any of the work.

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

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

Myself.

Next? Hafez:

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

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

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

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

Her: The blog’s not work?

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

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

(You’ll hate this.)

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

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

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

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

I don’t want to work.

I don’t want to play, either.

But. Here I go.

Words.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Celebrating Canada Day with gratitude, and pain

 

 

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

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

Ender’s love.

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

I am grateful.

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

They normalize that nothing is forever.

Nothing is forever.

Everything passes.

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

Not what it replaced.

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I am grateful I am here.

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

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

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

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

Breathe.

I am grateful I am here.

I am grateful I am alive.

I am grateful my daughter is alive.

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

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

iii

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

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

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

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

Pro-actively, passionately.

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

I am grateful for this painful awareness.

Happy Canada Day.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

And then–because the world needs more Canada:

Grateful.

But also–committed to change.

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

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

Ready?

(I am so full of insight.)

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

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

Decisions, decisions, decisions, decisions.

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

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

Decision fatigue.

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

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

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

If only.

Decision fatigue.

It’s real.

It kills.

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

OMG, so true.

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

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

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

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

Just a suggestion.

Empath fatigue.

It’s a thing too.

iii

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

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

Ok. I got this.

Maybe…

No. I got this. I got this.

Execute.

Get out of bed.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

 

Pandemic Diary: The kids are all right

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii

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

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

iii

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

So before you bitch about kids these days, remember:

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

They’re more than all right.

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

xoxo

“Jane”

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

 

Pandemic Diary: Helplessness tastes like sand; eat chocolate instead

I feel fat, which means I am very unwell and about to stop eating. My mouth feels full of yesterday’s food and I feel layers of fat and flesh obfuscating my soul. My belly–I grimace at it in the mirror–looks large and swollen.

I feel shame.

It is possible that I’ve put on a few pounds over quarantine. I’m drinking too much, people who love me are feeding me a lot of chocolate and ice cream—and chocolate croissants, with chocolate and ice cream on the side—and the other day, Cinder made lasagna, delicious, poisonous cheese and gluten, and I devoured it, gastrointestinal discomfort be damned.

So it is possible that I’m heavier. Fatter. Flabbier. But that I am having these thoughts, drowning in these thoughts? It has nothing to do with my actual weight or body shape. And everything to do with my mental health, which is, at best, shitty.

Yours, too? Yeah. I’m not well and neither are you. Nor is she. He. Them. Not to mention our therapists.

Flora’s medical team, notably her psychologist and our family therapist, fuck up big time last week. I lose it with them in a pretty spectacular way. Hang up in a fire of righteous anger that has still not burnt out.

Later, while not letting go of the anger—it’s still burning, hot—I recognize that everything I’m feeling? They’re feeling too. They’re not well either. Nobody is. So how can we help each other?

 

Over the weekend, we hold the first YYC Queer Writers meet-up since COVID. Via Zoom, still, cause half of us are waiting on post-protest COVID-19 tests (we are a cohort of socially responsible anti-racists and anarchists) and the other half don’t have the energy or will to leave the house or couch. We love each other and hold space for each other… and almost all of us break down.

I remember thinking, writing, when all of this started that the fact of this being a communal, global crisis rather than my personal tragedy helped. It kept me from navel-gazing and drowning in personal sorrow as I had the year we were trying to save Flora’s life.

I lied.

This is worse. Broken people helping broken people, mutual salvation stories? It’s the stuff of films and fantasies. Empty people attempting to fill their wells from other empty people end up drinking sand.

Yesterday’s meal, coats my gums, tongue, saliva even though I’ve brushed my teeth, once, twice, thrice. It tastes like sand.

 

The sun is out and it’s a beautiful day. Yesterday, there was rain, hail, flash flooding and a tornado warning. I looked at the pictures from around the city on my phone and then, the rising level of water in our alley—“Are we going to have to evacuate again?” Ender asked., “We need to go clear the drain, Mom, now, hurry,” and there we were, in the alley, clearing debris off the storm drain so the torrents of rain would have a place to go.

And I thought—no more. Seriously, you throw one more thing at me this year—I fucking quit, no more, no more.

We don’t flood or suffer hail damage, but other parts of the city aren’t as lucky.

I think about them, helpless. What if they felt like me—no more, one more thing, and I fucking quit—and then, one more thing, fist-size hail stones breaking house windows?

No more. I’ve got nothing left to deal with this. I quit.

I know you feel this too. And many of you are going through much worse things than I am. I have work—not stable work, mind you, thanks, Jason Kenney, for delivering on all your election promises to eviscerate education, appreciate it—but still. For now, work. And, despite the incompetence of her therapists, Flora is doing well. Cinder is working and thriving. Ender is love. The call just came—I don’t have COVID-19, so there’s that. Also, even if I ever get it—I have a robust immune system and I’ll probably just have the sniffles. Of course, I did just see the other day that obesity is one of the contributing risk factors to complications and death. And I am now fat—need to stop eating. On the other hand, a few weeks in a hospital bed—I could use the rest. Death? I probably wouldn’t die and if I did—honestly, kitten, right now, it’s difficult to get motivated about living, so, you know. We must all die sometime.

This is bad. Right? You do not want mothers, people with responsibilities—the normally resilient people who get shit done, who keep calm and carry on and do all the things to think like that, do you?

I think about this, a lot: if things are this hard for me right now, how hard must they be for people with no house security, no food security? For those families who have lost family members to COVID-19—run-of-the-mill cancers—police violence—domestic violence?

What I don’t think about, much: the future. Do you ? Can you visualize it? It eludes me, and that’s frightening. So I turn my attention to what I can control.

I feel fat. I feel the flesh on my belly, my ass and it repulses me. I can control that, make that disappear.

I can stop eating.

My form of self-violence, self-harm.

Deep breath.

An act of immense will: I eat some chocolate as if it were a Communion wafer and take the dogs and Flora for a walk in the sunshine instead.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: Getting out of bed to protest–also, to make breakfast–during a global pandemic

i.

Another day of not wanting to do things, not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to teach the workshop I so lovingly designed, not wanting to deal with dogs, children, family.

Sean takes our beast for her early morning walk and when I finally come up to the kitchen to start my day’s work—don’t want to do it—he is on his hands and knees washing the kitchen and living room floor. “Pee or puke,” I ask, don’t really care. “Muddy paw prints,” he says. He didn’t want to walk the dog either, doesn’t want to start his day washing the kitchen floor. I should feel grateful.

I don’t.

I do wonder—did he want to get out of bed?

Probably not—the whole world does not want to get out of bed right now.

But. We do.

ii.

Something good: yesterday, after Flora and I get back from the Black Lives Matter vigil and Sean picks up Cinder from work—Ender is violating lockdown rules and having a sleepover with his grandmother and cousins, ssshhh, don’t tell the self-appointed sanctimonious “deprive yourself of all human contact until there’s a vaccine” quarantine police—we kind of reaffirm the beauty, the power—the necessity—of the ordinary. We take our furry beast for a rumble on the hill. Then, Sean makes us gin and elder flower tonics in badly washed martini glasses. We sit on the balcony watching a storm approach. So many things we should tak about, but this calm before the storm is precious, and we are exhausted.

So. We don’t.

The teenagers come down to join us. And take us on a trip down memory lane… and alos, carefully, tenderly… look to the future.

When I start to chase Flora to bed a couple of hours later, she protests.

“I’m enjoying family time!” she says.

We look at anti-racist memes on Insta and Twitter together for a while longer.

I am, in the middle of battle and uncertainty, very briefly, at peace.

iii.

Out of bed. Pen. Notebook. Coffee. But this is not  a happy moment, for I don’t want to do any of the things that usually bring me joy, and the things to which deadlines are attached I want to do even less. Also, I hate people, all people, even you, and hate is an ugly, exhausting emotion, I want it gone.

Coffee. Pen. Paper. Words. My prayer, my meditation.

Halfway down page two, I feel at peace.

It’s gone by the halfway point of page three. Still. It’s something.

iv.

Something’s got to give, break, crack, change.

The Black Lives Matter protests  in the streets, peaceful in Canada and most other countries, intermittently crossing the line into fire and violence in the US, are an external manifestation of this individual, internal feeling in my heart, perhaps in yours. They are the foment—not yet the explosion. Not yet the change.

Something’s got to give.

The pressure is building.

v.

I get out of bed, pen, paper, coffee, words, and then, all the things, because, one day, Cinder and Ender’s children—Flora does not plan to use her uterus—will ask me, “What did you do in 2020, Babciu,” and I don’t want to say, that was the year I didn’t get ouf of bed, that was the year I suffered, whined, complained, wanted to be over.

But it’s very hard. I wonder if I’ll remember to tell them that.

I did the things we had to do. But it was very hard. 2020, the year that you will remember as the year that changed the world? That was the year that it was very hard to get out of bed.

But.

I did.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Yesterday’s vigil in yyc can be viewed here: https://www.pscp.tv/w/1mnxelybwwNJX?

Pandemic Diary: Protests in the time of the Pandemic

(Note: this isn’t really a post, it’s a collection of notes from my journal.)

i.

June 1

My son turned 18 last week and, you know, when he walks down the street? Takes the bus to work? Gets pulled over by the police for any reason, goes to a bar with friends? (OMG, my baby can go to a bar with friends now, when did that happen—right, last week!)

I never worry that he’ll be shot by the police.

Or even treated unfairly by them.

I mean, I have a lot of other worries. Obviously. I’m a mother.

That one?

Never, ever.

I never worry that my son will be shot by the police.

My Black American friends? They’re devoured by that fear every time one of their kids, loves, siblings walks the street.

I never truly understood this until this week.

I will never be able to really comprehend that fear—or how emotionally damaging it is. Simply imagining it causes me pin.

How did we build a world in which that is a thing?

More importantly: how do we change it?

ii.

June 2

I am still having a hard time getting out of bed. Doing anything. Moving.

But this week, I am attending, children in tow, Black Lives Matter protests, marches, a vigil.

I haven’t been inside a store or a coffee shop since they’ve re-opened. Not getting a hair cut this summer. Not holding any parties. Wearing a mask to the grocery store so that your Grandma doesn’t die, choking, because we’re out of ventilators.

Because everyone has the right to breathe.

iii.

June 3

As the Black Lives Matter / George Floyd protests were escalating in the US and beginning in Canada and around the world, I ran away for a day to Kananaskis Country, an expanse of wilderness, mountains, lakes and hiking trails about an hour’s drive from my city.

Yes, Paradise.

That’s privilege, by the way. White privilege: being able to run away. Step away from the conversation, conflict about race.

Black people, people of colour do not get to take a break from that reality.

That’s privilege. And so is this.

On the way to Paradise, my friend and I stopped at a gas station and my friend, who had been driving, discovered he had left his wallet at home.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They give you 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence when they pull you over.”

“They give YOU 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence when they pull you over,” he said, handing me the keys. “I’m not a white girl, remember? Here. You drive.”

Later, I tell the story to Flora. As I get to the part when I say, “They give you 24 hours to produce a driver’s licence,” she interrupts me.

“Wow, what a white privilege thing to say.”

I’m proud of her.

And ashamed of our world. Because, people, how fucked up is that? We know the police will go out of their way to NOT give me a ticket. To not inconvenience me.

My friend? He’d better not step over any lines. Ever.

We need to change this.

iv.

June 4

It’s the moment before I open the laptop, reach for the phone. The day is still ok. I’ve done my morning pages, cuddled the Ender and the dogs. An drinking coffee. Am thinking, I might do things today. Today might be a beautiful day.

I reach for the laptop, I check my newsfeeds—I fuck it all up.

I don’t know how to navigate this right now, people. Under most circumstances, I’d shut the tap off. But right now, that acts smacks more of cowardice than self-care. I think of my Black activist friends—and strangers—who just can’t do that. I think of the parents, families of George Floyd. Breonna Taylor.

David McAtee.

So many names I don’t know, didn’t notice, didn’t pay attention to. The Washington Post reports that since Jan. 1, 2015, 1,252 Black people have been shot and killed by the American police.

1,252.

(You should read/listen to this, by the way: https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die)

I am a conflict-avoidant coward. I am not an organizer. And I think most of the time, I’m a shitty ally, too wrapped up in my own story to really pay attention to the experience of others.

The least I can do right now is to bear witness.

I see your pain.

I see the injustice.

I don’t know what the fuck to do, honestly.

But. I witness.

Jane