Pandemic Diary: You’re forgiven; now move on (and maybe forgive me, too)


I come bearing absolution.

It’s ok to be sick of your limited social circle right now. The two, four or fourteen people who have been your household—COVID cohort—shrunken support network for the past ten months? They’re lovely people. And you love them. Well, you loved them. But now, you’re sick to death (almost) of them)—you don’t want to hear any more of their stories—you’ve heard them all, actually—everything they do irritates you, every flaw, once endearing, now magnified a thousand times…

It’s all right. They are annoying as fuck. They suck. Ok, yes, they’re great people. You’re just sick of them. And that’s ok, it’s normal—it’s ok.


I know that Sally and Molly over there have just grown closer and more Hallmark greeting card co-dependent over the pandemic, posting pictures of disgusting harmony, love, and perfectly nested, delighting fully in each other co-existence. They even work from the same home office. AT the same desk. All is love and perfection. Sick of each other? They are even more in love now than they were before COVID hit.

It’s ok. They’re the freaks here—or outright liars. Probably, actually—they’re the liars. You and your not-so-low-key homicidal rage towards people you live with and (used to) love?

That’s what’s perfectly normal.

You’ve spent so much time with each other, with no external distractions, limited coping techniques. You’re grating on each other like never before.

Of course you’re sick of your people. They’re sick of you too. And the only way to take a break from each other is to be completely alone—and that can be difficult to accomplish during lockdown when you’re locked down together—also, how many solo winter walks can one person take?


My January blues manifest in a visceral dislike of all of my friends. I don’t return texts (now you know why, sorry, I’m so sick of you, no, it’s nothing you’ve done, you just exist, go away). I don’t make plans. I fantasize about Cuba. Then, suddenly, I go online in search of strangers—for the love of god, give me a new person, a new conversation, anything other than this, anything other than you.

You: I feel really unloved here.

Jane: Tell me you don’t feel the same way about me?


So. I come bearing absolution. For you. for me. Of course we’re sick of each other. OF course we want to run away.

Of course we feel trapped.

Her: And you could call me! You haven’t seen me in six months and, well, I still won’t see you, because pandemic, but we could talk on the phone and…

Jane: Weirdly enough, I’m sick of you too. So, no.

January blues, pandemic blues.

Don’t worry about it. It’s normal. It’s ok.

I give you absolution.



Pandemic Diary: Project managing in crisis


One of the hardest things about being the project manager of your life—the hardest thing about being the project manager of your life—is that when the project is going off the rails and you’re stressed, exhausted, maybe depressed, definitely a lot mess… the people around you still treat you as the project manager.

The one in charge.

Them: “What’s the solution?”
“What should we do?”
“Tell me if there’s anything you need!”
“How can I support you? Just tell me!”

Project Manager: I need you to stop asking me to find jobs for you—for the love of god, seize some initiative and figure out a way to help and lessen my load on your own, and if you’re not competent enough to do that, just leave me da fuq alone!

Them: She’s having a bad day. It’s probably PMS.

It makes sense, really. If you’re generally a with-it person, in charge of the controllable aspects of your life, with high executive function and all of that, the people in your life get used to you taking initiative. Organizing things, planning things. Seeing shit through. You tell them what to do, where to go, how to contribute, on what timeline, in what order. They do it, shit gets done.

I used to even plan and make all the arrangements for my crashes and breakdowns—okay, Mom can take Ender for a sleepover on Wednesday, maybe I can sell Flora to her friend for the day and even night, Cinder will be okay on his own for a few hours, I’m gonna go scream in the woods for four hours, pick up pizza on the way home, all will be well—I just have to make it through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning—all will be well, I got this.

It’s when you step out of that role—fall out of it with a loud thunk—that things go sideways. You stop the planning and the managing, your people freak out because that’s not the way this has been working—nobody’s in charge, chaos, help—you get pissed because they’re useless drones who can’t figure out how to do anything without explicit instructions—and, odds are pretty good that after a brief freak out, you take a deep breath and find, somewhere in your heels, just enough juice to project manage them through your crisis… or push your crisis off until next Thursday, when you’ve got some time in the project of your life for it. No? Not next Thursday? Sunday the 24th? Perfect. Let’s do it then…

So you do it. But you hate it and resent it. Worst of all, you learn, over and over again, that when you’re broken, an exhausted mess? You’re still the project manager of your life, and you are in a really dysfunctional, unsupportive organization. There is no CEO or team lead or colleague watching out for you. You can’t count on anyone else to pick up the slack.


Extreme self-reliance, the psychologists say, is a form of trauma response. It’s taught by experience, circumstance. Shit goes down—past experience has taught you that you’re on your own. So, you take a deep breath, and you say, “I got this. I’m gonna get me, us out of this. The rest of you, just don’t get in my way, that’s all.”

I recognize that I do this. Unfortunately, most of you are useless in a crisis—you’re not that useful when things are chill to be frank—but it’s fine. I got this. I’ll get me out of this—while I’m at it, I’ll get you out of this. But, to be clear—I’m gonna resent you the whole time. For fuck’s sake, can’t you do anything to help me, ever?



January blues. Shitty anniversaries. Triggers. The good thing about documenting one’s inner and outer life is that one has a record—of the good and the bad. One is braced for a tough December, a really horrible first week of January. One plans for it, and one survives it. (One talks about oneself in the third person as a dissociative coping strategy—try it—apparently it’s not recommended by neither the positivist psychologists nor the vestigial Freudians—how is Freud still taught as anything other than a historical curiosity?—but it’s damn effective in creating some distance between oneself and unpleasant experiences.)

One doesn’t expect the second week of January curveball and one is hammered by it, but one knows what to do, more or less, sort of.

Them: Write piles of self-indulgent, incomprehensible crap in the gender-neutral third person?

Jane: You smoke weed, I write. Writing is free and doesn’t make my clothes smell like skunk.

Her: And your hair. Your hair stinks.

Them: Why is everyone picking on me?

January blues. I go inward. I will love you, I think, again in February. Well. No. That’s too soon. March. Right now though, I’m a bowl of resentment. Ball of resentment? I like the image of a bowl—a bowl, ceramic, colourful—so pretty—of swirling, surging, black-and-purple resentment that I’m holding tight to my chest. If I eat from the bowl—and I want to—I’ll ingest poison.

I’m on my own, I’m alone, no one can help me.



A few weeks—months—not years, but it feels like it, a friend gave me two bags of Superstore no-name brand frozen Chicken Parmigiana that he thought were, well, too disgusting to eat.

Him: For your kids? Kids like shit like this.

Jane: Maybe.

I’m not going to read the ingredient list to you. Maybe, there was chicken.

Flora: Wow, this is crazy. The first bite is really good, but then, as soon as you stop chewing, you feel like you’ve eaten plastic…

Ender loved them. Absolutely loved them.

Jane: What do you want for lunch when you come over tomorrow?

Ender: Chicken pizza!

Jane: What?

Ender: You know? Those delicious chicken pockets? Like the chicken with cheese and tomato sauce inside it?

I love my Ender, but God I hate Superstore, and also, Sean  needs the car tonight, and also, I have so much work to do today and I’ve lost so much time already and OMG, I’m not going to give my son what he wants for lunch tomorrow, I’m a failure as mother, I might as well just crawl into bed and die, there is no hope, no point, I’m on my own but I can’t actually get enough with it to go to the store to buy Ender lunch, I…


Trauma response.

It does not actually have to play out like this.

I text.

Jane: Is there any chance you’re going to Superstore tonight?

Him: Yes. What do you need?

I’m pretty sure he was not planning to go to Superstore until I text. But that’s what friends do. They show up…

Jane: That inedible Chicken Parmigiana, you know what I mean?

Him: One pack or two?

Jane: One.

Breathe. Not alone. Not unsupported. Still the project manager of my life, cause that’s the way the world goes, but not unsupported. I ask for what I need and it comes to me—I accept it with reverence and gratitude.


Ender gets his Chicken Parmigiana. My Mom shows up the next day with won ton soup, bacon and a bag of frozen seafood—I can put off the Superstore or Costco horror trip for a few more days.

Thank you.


A project manager’s fantasy is, I think, a team member who can read your fucking mind, anticipate what you need—see the gap and fill it. You know. A future project manager in the making, really—the person who’s gonna take your job from you and you can’t wait for them to do it, to be honest, because this job kind of sucks, but also, you’re a control freak, and so you’d only work for a project manager who is more competent than you, and what are the odds of that? Such project managers and such employees are rare, unicorns. (In workplaces, they are, by the way, called office wives. Telling, no?)

A satisfactory team member is one who does what you ask them to do and embraces increased responsibility as you hand it to them.

Sigh. So be it. The team is a collaborative, interdependent unit.

But someone has to be in charge.

And, really. I do want to be in charge of my life. Don’t you?

But… tomorrow.

Today, though, I’m taking a mental health day, going for walk, screaming in the woods.

You: Is there anything I can do to support you in this?

Jane: Stop asking me for shit and get out of my way. I mean—um, no. Thanks. I got this.

I’ll give you further instructions on how to contribute tomorrow.



PS Well, this is weirder than I had planned. Did it upset you? Breathe…

Pandemic Diary: Doing nothing, with relish

We’re just sitting here, not doing very much, me and the dog. She’d really like me to finish up doing not very much and take her for her second walk, but she hasn’t become obnoxious about it yet—just the occasional look and sigh. Being in the house is boring. The outside world calls. There’s snow outside and run through, and smells to discover—new dogs to meet.

“Soon, Bumblebee,” I tell her. “I need just a little bit longer to do nothing, right here.”

I’ve had a really productive week and, thus far, weekend, and so I feel allowed, justified to do nothing right now. Glorying in it, really—thinking that after I walk Bumblebee and commune with nature and give my body fresh air and exercise, I will return to doing nothing, and feeling good about it. It seems like that kind of day. The kids are coming for supper but my mother made a Babi dinner for us yesterday, and I resisted the urge to send it to Sean’s house with the kids, so I don’t even have to cook tonight. Here I am, sitting. Staring into space—it’s almost meditation. Reading The Artist’s Way again, and sipping black coffee, and thinking that maybe I should return your texts, but, you know, that feels like work right now, so, actually no… doing nothing, feeling okay about it.

I’ve done nothing a lot over the past six, nine, twelve months, but most of the time, feeling nothing does not feel good, right? I mean—oh, what do I mean—I mean, like with so many things, it comes down to choice. Right now, in this moment, I am choosing to do nothing, to rest in this space, and it feels great.

Last month, I did nothing, a lot, because I felt incapable of doing anything, and so I wanted to act, but I couldn’t, and I did nothing, and it felt awful…

Today’s nothing feels so good.

I worked. I met deadlines. I finished—even though the circumstances were hard and, to be honest, I did not want to do the work very much, and it was hard to focus and think. But I did it.

And I went grocery shopping and did the kitchen laundry and tidied my apartment—washed the floors, even—and I did not bail on the one social commitment I had made for the week. And yesterday I did all the things I was supposed to do, both for myself and for others.

And I said no to some other ones.

And so today… I get to do nothing.

The dog is getting agitated. The nothing is about to be interrupted by a long walk, during which I will listen to an audiobook, and think about nothing.

And after which I might have a nap.

A friend wanted to watch movies with me today… but that seems like something. I’m not sure I’m up for it.

It is, very much, a do nothing sort of day.



Pandemic Diary: Time, time, time, what has become of thee?

“Time, time, time, see what’s become of me?”

Ok, people, something is wrong. Very badly wrong. Time is not working the way it should, and if this was an episode of Star Trek—I’m watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in the background of some of my life—Data would have already noted this discrepancy and we’d all be trying to pull Spaceship Earth out of the event horizon-anomaly-vortex-thingy.

But it’s not Star Trek, it’s real life, and we’re stuck.

We’ve all been commenting on this phenomenon throughout the past year. “This year has lasted a week and a decade.” “The last five months have been the longest five years of my life.” “How is it still Tuesday?” “How is it Friday already?”

Time is just not working the way it’s supposed to.

Time flies–or is it drags?–when you’re drinking gin…

What’s most concerning to me is that, theoretically, I should have more time. Right? I mean—there’s no place to go. Nothing to do. No one to do it with. (Apologies to my COVID cluster, whom I’ve been ignoring for the past two weeks—I’m so sick of you. Aren’t you sick of me? I mean, I don’t even want to text you any more right now. “What are you doing?” “Nothing. You?” Ugh. I’d rather be alone than bored with you, true fact, I know I’m a terrible human being, deal with it, you’re not that awesome either.)

(Um. Sorry about that. Pandemic, lockdown, eternal darkness in Viking Hell, January Blues, you know. I’ll love you again after the Equinox.)

Where was I? No place to go. Nothing to do. No one to do it with. I should be awash in hours and hours of time that I’d be struggling to fill with god, I don’t know, yoga, meditation, writing, exercise, learning Farsi.

(I’m still on Chapter 1 of my Conversational Farsi textbook. I. Can’t. Remember. Anything. But my calligraphy is getting marginally better… I now write like a four year old, rather than a three year old.)

I’d probably make more progress on that Farsi if I actually opened the textbook… see if there in the background?

Instead—blink. Snap. The day is gone—I have accomplished a quarter, a tenth of the not very much I was planning to do and, fuck me, tomorrow is half over too—how is that possible?

Some of this is due to the low grade depression most of us are in (some of us are in full blown depression; when a friend of mine called the Canada Suicide Prevention hotline last week1-833-456-4566—they got put on hold), some of it is due to the lack of external time/schedule anchors in our work-at-home, learn-at-home, stay-the-fuck-home-unless-you’re-a-politician-with-a-timeshare-in-Hawaii orders, and some of it might actually be the rsult of the Earth spinning faster now—I saw the headline of a study to that effect th eother day but, you know, I didn’t have the time to read it.

Time, time, time.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. Deadlines, schedules, appointments, alarms.


Killing time on tik-tok.

Time. “It’s a hazy shade of winter…”



I’m fairly sure I don’t look this emaciated in real life, btw, Mom. It’s the angle and the huge glasses. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

PS Ok, this is a Simon and Garfunkel song, but I think the mood calls for the Bangles not Paul and Art, right? Enjoy:

Pandemic Diary: Feeling all the feelings, naming and owning their shame

So I went through a thing with you the other night, when you were feeling all the feelings, but then, on top of that, shame for feeling all the feelings, and I think I helped you, a little, but through it all, I also got feelings—followed by shame about having those feelings—and so today, I find myself pondering—where does that shame about having feelings and emotions come from? I don’t think it’s biological, innate, and inevitable, because it makes no sense—it does not help us survive. It’s destructive, actually, and traps us in horrid spirals. The Buddhists and the yogis, and most psychotherapists, teach you to look at your thoughts and feelings (they don’t always separate the two) dispassionately, without judgement—without shame. But we judge. That’s our go-to. We shame.


Let’s take the generic pandemic-related feelings most of us are feeling these days—frustration, depression, anxiety, anger. Really. All the feelings. “I can’t cope.” “This sucks.” “Pain.” “Alienation.” “Loneliness.”

Fury at strangers, because they’re not wearing masks–because they are…

Isn’t there a layer of shame and judgement on top of each of them? “Why is this so hard?” “What’s wrong with me that I can’t cope?” “So many people have it so much worse—why am I so unhappy? What right do I have to feeling this much pain?”

Every right. Cause it’s your feeling. Your pain. Your level of emotional exhaustion and depletion. Your particular hormonal cocktail.

Isn’t it hard enough feeling all the feelings in the first place without feeling ashamed that you’re having them?

No—stop! Now you’re feeling ashamed that you’re ashamed—stop, stop, stop!

(What am I doing? I’m not supposed to tell you to stop how you’re feeling…)

Deep breath.

Eat some chocolate.

You: You know chocolate is a junk food and not a medicine, right?

Jane: Lie. It’s medicine, and also, a food of the gods. See Sophie & Michael Coe’s The True History of Chocolate; also, Marcela Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate; also—this one is the most depressing, tbh, but sometimes, knowledge hurts—Kay Frydenborg’s Chocolate: Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat.

I work through my shame in the morning on the page, write my way to being at peace with the ugliest of my feelings. You, I don’t know, I hope you slept deeply and dreamed of beautiful things, and woke up willing to accept all the feelings as part of who you are right now. No shame necessary…

But now, no longer feeling shame, I wonder if instead of dissipating it, we just need to name it and accept it. “I feel—frustrated, angry, suicidal. I feel ashamed of these feelings, because, Christ, things aren’t that bad, really, and yet I feel inadequate, incompetent, a failure. I feel all of these things. And that’s ok. It sucks, but it’s also ok…”


I kinda feel like re-reading Brene Brown on shame (cause she thinks there’s a reason for shame–, and also, maybe, meditating, cause I need to come down a little more, and also, eating chocolate cake, but I have neither flour nor coco powder in the house, should I go shopping? No. I also feel like writing, so I’ll work instead. Julia Cameron says, “The trick is to metabolize pain as energy,” and dammit if she’s not right.

I’m gonna check in on you later, and I’m sure you’ll still be feeling all the feelings. Including shame. But maybe, less powerfully? And that’s okay. That’s you right now. And I love you as you are. In the pain, and in the shame.

Later, I’ll bring you chocolate.



Pandemic Diary: I had a dream that I went to Hawaii for Christmas vacation… wait, that wasn’t me and it wasn’t a dream…

[Note for non-Alberta readers: I don’t usually write place-specific posts, but this one is necessary, bear with me. We’ve been in a fairly strict lockdown over Christmas—pretty much everything’s shut down (except malls and churches) and no indoor or outdoor social gatherings between households are allowed. That’s right. Most of us couldn’t see our family and friends over Christmas. Meanwhile, a bunch of our politicians went on vacations. We the voters… are unimpressed.]

I had an incredibly vivid dream last night that I was having an illegal COVID-19 lockdown party. It started just with me and you in my living, and then you asked if he could join us, and he brought a friend, and the friend brought a kid—who brought my kid—and before I had blinked my eyes twice, there were six or seven people in my living room and on the patio. And then, an AHS health officer with a Foothills Hospital ER ID (vivid, did I mention) around his neck, and then two cops writing everyone $1000 tickets for violating the public health order, at which point—in my dream—I list my shit and announced that I would only pay these if the motherfuckers who went on “essential because it’s a family tradition” Christmas trips be fired, maybe drawn and quartered too.

I woke up—alone—and really pissed and there’s just one thing I need to scream. Two, actually. First, if you’re a private person, Joe Blow, and you went to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Saskatchewan or Eastern Canada for Christmas during the Alberta lockdown despite the Canada-wide advisory against non-essential travel… whatever. Your call, your judgement, your risk, your life—I can’t be 100 per cent sure I wouldn’t do the same if I had the money and if I didn’t have children.

But if you’re my elected government representative and your government has just ruined my Christmas tradition, and maybe, in the process, put me out of business—no. No. You don’t get to go to Hawaii for Christmas. Yes, I am holding you to a higher standard than Joe Blow. You work for me, you told me to grit my teeth and suffer, and then you fucking went to the beach with your extended family.

Second, and this had much worse results for public health in Alberta… The key consequence of Hawaii-gate is that I’m much less inclined to follow the lockdown rules. Was that the plan, Jason, Tracy? Mission accomplished. Before, I was resenting them but mostly complying. Now, to be honest, I feel there is no point. Why should I deny myself and suffer while my leaders… well, lead by example?

(Bet they all went Boxing Day deal shopping too.)

Stay home, my ass.

Do whatever you like, and screw the consequences—that’s what Alberta’s political elite (what a joke) have told us to do this with their behaviour holiday season.

Packing for Hawaii right now—in my dreams—licking airport washroom door handles—in my nightmares—wondering if politicians will ever NOT disappoint me.

Remember this come the next election, people.



PS Everyone who does communications / strategic consulting work for the UCP needs to be fired as well. I mean. Seriously. As a communications professional… I just pretty much can’t. I will be teaching the UCP’s handling of COVID-19 as a textbook “Here is how not to do this” for years.

Pandemic Diary, Continued: But, maybe, a reset?

Do you remember—if you’re a writer, artist, I bet you’ve done this in your artistic infancy—getting a new notebook, a new sketchbook, a thing of perfect beauty and also, infinite potential, in its blankness, newness? It is untouched, unblemished. So full of potential.

This is how every January 1 seduces us—this is sort of how I feel, on a small scale, on every Monday. Potential perfection, here I come. This week—this year—everything will be better, different, more… perfect.

Happiness though, and life, lie in the acceptance that… actually… well… at 12:01 on January 1, 2021? Things, people—you, me—are much the same as they were at 11:59 on December 31, 2020.

So. No New Year’s Resolutions here. No hopes, dreams or plans either, really, to be honest. The bar is pretty low: I want to be employed and solvent, healthy and sane. Loved and loving. Alive and glad to be alive. That’s where the bar got set in 2020, which is much better than the bar for 2019 (“Survive, fuck, survive, can we get through this?”—we did, more or less).

In my Morning Pages, January 1 is just another page in a notebook started on December 12. In life, it’s a pretty glorious day—it begins with dancing (turns out you can have an all-night dance party with just the people you’d spend most of your time with at the all-night dance party you’d go to if there weren’t a lockdown) and ends with Ender in my arms, on my lap, on my head in all his giant, almost as heavy as me but still a child glory, as the kids and I watch Community after playing Qwerkle. In-between, all three children at my table, slurping Pho and making terrible jokes, a good book, a lot of “Happy New Year! May 2021 not suck—or at least suck less—god, I’ll see you, hug you, hold you in 2021, right?” texts. Also, a walk with the dogs, and the weather is warm although not sunny. Also, memories and reflection—and they’re not all bad.

Gratitude suffuses me. And they’re right, those trite memes and those wise sages: practicing gratitude changes everything. I am grateful for this moment and this feeling; I am grateful for you. I am grateful for this ridiculous, annoying, giant dog that sheds long hair everywhere; I am grateful for this cozy, cute apartment that’s a five minute sprint away from my kids—I am so grateful for my beautiful, mostly thriving children.

When you—when I, anyway—practice gratitude, there are no mistakes or regrets. Although there is still pain…

So. 2021. Hello. Don’t suck. I’m grateful to be here, and I will ride your bumps and slings and arrows… but. Like. Don’t suck. Suck less. Fulfill some of the potential promised by your blank page… in a, like—I don’t want to say “positive,” lol, because 2020 has made meaning of that word loaded—in a, let’s say, productive, powerful, purposeful way. That leads to good, beautiful, worthwhile things.

In return, I promise to whine less and be thankful more. Deal?

(The year doesn’t answer; being a fictional, artificial construct of our collective imaginations—well, except for the whole scientific Earth travelling around the sun bit.)

Deal, I answer for it.




Pandemic Diary: COVID Christmas Canticle

December 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or stay in bed and binge watch Bridgerton.

A day off.

Not such a bad thing, you know.

Thigs have been worse.

This is actually pretty good.

December 26, 2020

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

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

December 27, 2020

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

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

I am loved.

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

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

I am loved.

I am alive. In 2020, that’s the bar.

December 28, 2020

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

We walk. Talk. Walk.

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

Three more days to go.

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

December 29, 2020

I am happy.

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

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

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


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


I was happy—I will find that feeling again.



Pandemic Diary: No, the pandemic hasn’t changed you—prove me wrong

Let’s start with this quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do  not bring forth will destroy you.

…which I bring to you via my re-reading of Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. Cope—and others—use the full quote in the context of finding purpose, vocation, dharma—the meaning of your life, as a kind of life journey encouragement. Find your purpose and do it all out (if you bring forth what is within you, it will save you) or… well, perish and die (if you do not bring forth what is within you, that act of self-denial will destroy you).

Today, I want to fracture and pervert the purpose of this quote, because what I’ve been finding out all through the pandemic is that crisis and stress really excels at bringing out what is already in you. So, if you’ve got an entrepreneur inside you, as soon as shit hit the fan, you were distilling hand sanitizer, sewing face masks, and repositioning your coffee shop into a full catering service for white collar workers trapped in their condo towers. Avowed and formerly secret artists made pandemic art—performers found ways to perform, however inferior. Me, I reverted, on a dime, from writing escapist fiction to documenting the drama and trauma of the moment—the thing most within me is the desire to document and tell the true, real story, not the false, fantastic, soothing fable. You—well, you did your thing.

What was it?

No, really. What’s that thing, your thing? What’s within you that you brought forth during the dumpster fire that was 2020?

The end of the year always makes me pensive and reflective, a combination of the darkness and the turning over of the calendar. The first blank page of 2021—what lesson can I bring to it from 2020? What pain, baggage can I shed?

The exercise is hard in 2020 (I didn’t do it in 2019; it was impossible).

But still. Even though it’s hard, I want to do it. So. What did I learn, about muself, about you, in 2020?

Mostly, my biggest lesson? (You will hate this). People don’t change. Crisis, suffering, trauma—we pretend they temper, shape, save people? They don’t. Experience, good or bad, does not so much change people as it accenctuates—brings forth—what is already in them. So assholes, in 2020, just became more assy and more perforated. Martyrs found more extreme forms of martyrdom and self-righteous self-sacrifice (“I will leave the house never, and, also, not have any contact with anyone at all, not even six feet apart and while wearing a mask, because I want to do everything in my power to keep you safe”—no, honey, you just get off on suffering and sacrificing more than everyone else, and you want your suffering and sacrifice to be more profound than everyone else’s. No judgement here, just so long as we’re clear that you’re engaging in a coping strategy and a stress response just as much as I am—and we’re not pretending that you’re so perfectly, smilingly selfless here.)

For me, I find this year of pandemic has accentuated both my mood swings (see rant above) (also, perimenopausal hormonal shifts probably aren’t helping—but chocolate sure does) and my already unforgiving self-awareness, and also, that ruthless part of me that looks at you and says, “Meh, my life will be fine, if not better, without you, you’re too much work, screw off,” and also the “You’re my people and my responsibility and I will die for you—what do you need” unconditional lovely part, and also, did I mention, mood swings.

It has also amped up the characteristic that had made me such a good journalist back in the day—that part that goes, “Actually, there aren’t two sides to this story, there are two hundred, but this is the most compelling one—why isn’t anyone telling the story like this? Fine. I’ll do it.”

That part of me, I value and like. (The moody, ruthless bitch, less so, but. People don’t change, so I’m stuck with her.)

So what has the pandemic amped up in you? Tell me. Or—it’s probably too personal. Tell yourself. Don’t cheat. Fight the temptation to say, “The way the pandemic has changed me is…” You didn’t change. We don’t change (at least, very, very rarely). But what, that was already inside you, did this crisis bring forward, spotlight, accentuate?

The only wrong answer:

“I’ve always been am empath and, OMG, the pandemic has just made me so much more attuned to the feelings and suffering of others.”

Self-proclaimed empaths, I’ve been watching you all year, and this crisis has made you ever more attuned and aware of your own suffering and very committed to expressing it to others—and generally whining about how your suffering on behalf of others is not appreciated and recognized. A) Pretty sure that’s not empathy—do check the definition. B) Not asking you to suffer on my behalf, so, like stop. C) Asking you to shut the fuck about it, though, ok? Tx.

Um. Did I mention—mood swings? Ruthless?

And also—documenting the drama and the trauma?

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.

Bring it forth.



PS Do, by all means, bring forth genuine expressions of empathy—we’ve never needed real empathy more. Hint: such expressions generally do not need to be preceded by the phrase, “As an empath, I…” Empaths focus on other people, notice and respond to what other people are feeling. Narcissists focus on themselves. I know it’s a blurry, hard-to-discern line, but it’s there. Find it.

Pandemic Diary: Of aliens, erectile dysfunction and pillow forts


You’ve probably heard by now that COVID-19 may lead to erectile dysfunction among men,and if you haven’t, well, you have now, so spread the word. I’m very excited about this rumour—and, sorry, it is not backed by any scientific claim, just one dude talking out loud and claiming the title “expert” because, I don’t know why, well, he has a penis, so I suppose that’s enough, so he’s just talking and grabbing headlines, because, limp penises are newsworthy, in a patriarchy, anyway—but anyway, I’m so excited about this, because if COVID-19 negatively impacts men’s sexual performance, the vaccine is so gonna work, and also, there’s gonna be a cure just around the corner.

Prove me wrong.

I’m being silly (maybe) but, really. Prove me wrong.


You’ve probably heard by now that the mass inoculation program against COVID-19 has been masterminded by aliens who… what? You draw the line at that? You sure? Alien conspiracy theories are my absolute favourite. Come on. If you’re gonna go that way, go all the way.

I dare you.

No, I don’t think you’re stupid. Desperate and thus gullible, yes.

Anyway. I’m just in a mood and I want to poke at you.

Where were we? Right.



I want, I want, I want—today, I want to build a pillow fort in my bed and never come out—some things I need to do, children, dogs, work—I want to want things but all I want is this blanket around me. So. Today, I don’t resent the lockdown even though the lockdown is the reason I don’t want to get out of bed. Funny, hey?




PS It is a lockdown even though the malls are open. Do you not understand? I do not care about the malls. You can keep them closed until the end of time. I need my people in my pillow fort

Pandemic Diary: Let me scream, let me scream: Christmas is cancelled, and it’s okay to be really, really mad about it


I am doing my best to let everyone deal with the dumpster fire that is Alberta’s second wave lockdown as best as they can. I’m letting people scream—not that I could stop them (control reak much, Jane? Yup, not just a little), but you know what I mean. Regardless of whether they are “it’s a hoax” anti-maskers, herd immunity libertarians or “lock ourselves in iron lungs and never come out” extreme protectionists—whatever they are screaming feeling? It’s all valid. Yes, even the hoaxers. This situation sucks so much, and angry, frightened, confused—disempowered—people don’t make good decisions.

So I let them scream.

(By which I mean, I don’t leave nasty, contradictory or disempowering comments on their rants. I just let them… be.)

I know I’m doing better, myself, because I can let them scream, and I can listen to them. In mid-November (fuck, mid-October), I couldn’t, and I’d look at the tweeting masses and kinda go, “God, I only wish this virus was more deadline—none of you deserve to live.”

I’m slightly more compassionate now—this week… this day… this precise hour, anyway. Scream, baby. Scream all you want to, need to, my pissed off little love. Christmas is coming, ditto Yalda and Solstice, Hanukkah is here, Kwanzaa just around the corner, and all of this sucks ass.

In my newsfeed, a meme like this: If you’re moaning that Christmas is cancelled, then what did you learn from the Grinch?

That Christmas is about holding hand with your people and signing together around a naked pole, then carving the roast beast for all the members of your community and, like, celebrating together. What did you learn from the Grinch? That it’s about sitting alone in your cave and hating the Whos?

Dammit, sorry—that thread of compassion in me… it’s thin and it just snapped. Sorry, sorry. You too are screaming: you’ve missed Christmas Day celebrations before because shift work, travel, university, illness. Whatever. But you know it’s not Christmas Day we’re mourning.

It’s holding our people, tight. And babe… I know you gotta scream. But you also gotta let me scream. Because I want, I want, I want to be part of the three generation pierogi-making assembly line. I want to have Christmas Eve brunch with my friend and get kinda tipsy if not outright drunk (with my friend) so that I go to the over-the-top Polish Christmas Eve dinner at my parents’ house with a buzz. I want to experience all the family fights and the over-eating and the present orgy that on other years frustrate me. I want to do it all with my kids, my parents, my brother and his wife, my nieces and nephews, and any and all orphans we’ve gathered around us that year. I want to end the night at my beloved neighbour’s annual Christmas Eve open house. I want to wake up on Christmas Day not knowing who will drop by that morning. I want to swing by your house mid-afternoon with your present and disappear into your arms, into your love for a few exhilarating minutes. I want to spend the evening, night with everyone I love.

And the fact that I can’t do that –it really, really sucks. And you—I’m talking to you, lockdown lover, so in love with the righteousness and self-sacrifice of your suffering—you need to let me scream that it sucks.

Because it does.


I am, of course, doing new things this December so that Christmas does not utterly suck for me, my parents, and especially my children. (I don’t have an awful lot of energy to spare for my friends, to be honest, forgive me.) I might even make it beautiful: I came up with a fantastic idea for the kids Advent calendar, and I’m doing a Yalda/Solstice thing for the first time, and… well. Stuff. But when people tell me, with relentless positivity, to embrace this lockdown as an opportunity to create new traditions? I want to kick and scream. Just… let me mourn the old ones, okay? Let me be ad. And let me hope that in 2021, I’ll do all the old things again. (Maybe some of the new.) With my people, tightly in my arms.


I’ve seen this type of messaging too: “This isn’t the first Christmas that I’ve spent away from family. You’ve never worked shift work, travelled, gone away to uni and been to broke to come home for the holidays? Suck it up.”

Come on, people. I’ve spent lots of Christmases away from my family—a country away, a content away, two oceans away (is that even possible? I’m not sure…). But in none of those situations was I alone. The first adult Christmas my brother and I spent away from my parents, we were together in Korea—and we organized an old school Polish Christmas Eve for my roommates. The next day, we had a Southern Texan Baptist meets Pennsylvanian German Quaker meets Toronto Atheist Christmas Day, and on Boxing Day, we celebrated Korean-style with our students. My Christmases in Montreal, all of us “orphans” came together. The Christmas my parents spent on a cruise in Australia—it was a great Christmas, but we all chose to spend it the way we did.

This one? It’s not a choice. It’s forced on us by circumstance.

And it’s disempowering, and it sucks.


Scream as much as you need to.

Just, like… not at me?



Pandemic Diary: On plurality, the weirdoes I love, and talking to strangers

drafted in late November


Flora: Am I still your “most likely to grow up to be a serial killer child”?

Jane: Yes?

Flora: You’re not sure?

Jane: I’m sure, but I’m not sure what answer you want to hear?


Flora and I are walking briskly in the cold-not-cold November air from her house to mine (it’s still a mindfuck to me that this is a thing: her house, the kids’ house not being the same thing as my house). She’s going to watch my friend’s neurotic dog while the friend and I go out for sheesha (a perfectly legal act during this weird-ass non-lockdown, yes it makes no sense, yet, it’s totally fucked, but there it is). And suddenly—OMG—shiny things! A lawn of an apartment building strewn with treasures. Incense and Tarot books, candles, scarves, so many pretty things. Flora and I plunge into their midst.

“Are you moving?” I ask the woman who, from the safe distance of the balcony, tells us to take what we like and donate what we can, either into the jar or via etransfer.

“Just downsizing, decluttering, passing stuff on,” she says.

Her book collection is great, and lots of the odds and ends and knick-knacks make me smile. I introduce myself and tell her, “You have so many lovely things here. Also, I love your books. We should be friends.”

In another time—by which I mean, in a time unravaged by this modern plague—we’d exchange phone numbers and make a plan to meet for coffee tomorrow, probably at Vendome. Or maybe I’d ask her if she likes sheesha, would she want to come with me and mine to Cafe Med sometime, maybe even today? But in this time, in this stupid semi-lockdown, we just look at each other with hungry eyes. I make a note of the apartment building address, her balcony. Maybe in the spring, I’ll ask her to hang out. If we can, if it’s “safe.”

Flora and I resume our walk. She seems a bit perturbed. And, here it comes:

Flora: If that’s the way you meet people, no wonder you’re friends with so many weirdoes.

No one as judgemental as a teendager—no one as easily embarassed by a parent as a teenager either. Still. This is, to be fair, one of the less antagonistic things she’s thrown at me these days; almost an invitation to dialogue and conversation.

I take it.

Jane: I love my friends and they’re amazing. What? Who’s weird?

Flora: You’re friends with like, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers! And people who are in cults!

Also, one of my friends is married to a Flat Earther. But I don’t think Flora knows that.

Jane: I only have one friend in a cult, and it’s not really a cult, more like an intentional community with cult-like overtones, and she’s one of the  most loving, thoughtful people I know.

Also, I didn’t meet her on the street. I met her in cyberspace, which I suppose is the 21st century version of talking to strangers on the street?

But I digress—Flora and I fall into what is now a common conversation for us, in which I tell her I think it’s important to spend time with, to listen to, to try to understand all sorts of people. Hanging out exclusively in a silo of people who think just like you is bad for the brain and bad for the heart—bad for the world, actually. It makes you lazy and narrow-minded and…

She doesn’t exactly disagree. She just doesn’t see the value of my point. She’s in the throes and the enthusiasm of that stage of life at which she’s just starting to find her people. With whom she’s forming a cohesive, supportive cohort from the safety of which she can judge all those are people… who aren’t like her.

Jane: It’s boring to just hang out with people who think just like you, right?

Oh, the look she gives me—only a fifteen year old can give you a look like that. It’s not boring for her. Not yet. It’s new, and so it’s intoxicating.

We seem to, right now, as a society be failing to grow out of this normal, natural, necessary adolescent stage of development of surrounding ourselves with like-minded people… and only like-minded people.

This is harmful, to our personal development and to meta-social development of our culture.

I hear this all the time, and I bet you do too: “I want to be surrounded by like-minded people.” To be sure, who doesn’t? It feels nice. And we all need our safer spaces in which we can relax, and not be the culty weirdo.

But we also need spaces, relationships in which we are challenged, uncomfortable. Excited by the different, inspired to try to understand the inexplicable, oppositional, contradictory.

My most rewarding relationships have always been with the people who are not very much like me. They’re interesting to me. Hanging out with intellectual and emotional copies of me is very, very… dull.


While Flora babysits a neurotic poodle, I spend time with a friend who is not very much like me at all—we share some commonalities but more differences, and that’s what makes our friendship interesting. Later that night, all three kids come over for supper and the teenagers argue over—well, everything. And make Ender cry. I navigate the emotional storm as best as I can; walk them to their house in the dark, thinking about the complexity of relationships.

On the way back I pass the lawn strewn with beautiful things. A couple is going through my future friend’s treasures in the black of the night. I turn on the flashlight on my phone for them.

“Is there any incense left?” I ask. “I was kind of thinking of getting that earlier in the day.”

“Yes!” the woman says. She introduces herself as we scavenge, six feet apart, and feel each other’s vibe.

She’s kinda like me.

“We should be friends,” she says. I ask her where she lives, and she’s not in the hood anymore, but her guy lives just over there. I know the house—I think, in another time, I’ve sat on its porch…

In another time, they’d invite me over for a drink and a joint, right then, right now. Tonight, we each make a mental note to find each other in the spring. Maybe.

They might be my kind of weirdoes. Or cultists. Conspiracy theorists? Or some other kind of animal altogether. I don’t know.

I’d like to find out. I think I’ll like them.



Pandemic Diary: Pandemic fatigue, also, sniffles

I wake up with stuffed nose and sniffles and I don’t know how that’s even possible, unless it’s dog hair allergies, because, for fuck’s sake, I never go anywhere anymore. My fridge is empty and I don’t want to go to the grocery store, because I don’t want to be surrounded by panicked people—I also don’t want to send a minimum wage Instacart employee to the grocery store on my behalf, kwim? If you’ve done no reflection on how your ability to work from home and order in is an epitome of socio-economic privilege—no matter how poor you think you are—do it. Now.

I’m pretty sure it’s allergies…

Anyway, a stuffed up/runny nose is not a COVID-19 symptom. But I think my throat is sore too. Maybe? Is it store? Or is it just dry? Should I tell my kids not to come over today? Cancel my planned six-feet-apart—this is so not six-feet apart, but it’s too far to feel good, why did we even bother—walk with a friend?

Pandemic fatigue. Don’t mock. It’s a thing. People who are tired of making decisions make bad decisions. They decide to stop deciding.

They die.

Ok. The house is warmer now. I’m warmer. Sniffles gone, I think? How about that sore throat? Not sore anymore. But now I have aches. Am I stiff or getting the plague, or some other plague? Or is the pandemic turning me into a hypochondriac as well as an unbearable whiner?

I’m thinking today’s the day I stop drinking, for the month at least, because it’s safer, really, right? Instead of wondering, “Am I drinking too much?” … just drink not at all. I can do it. I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to do anything, so what’s one more thing?

Damn. Another sneeze. Am I 100 per cent sure sneezing is not a symptom of COVID? Google. Yes. It’s not. But am I getting a cold? How can I be getting a cold? I don’t want to get a cold. Yuck. Or maybe I do. A few days sick in bed with a good reason not to do anything… would not be that bad. Right?


Decision fatigue. Pandemic fatigue. Sniff.


Do all the things, and do them without your friends and without leaving the house.


Also, fuck.



But the sunrises are beautiful…

Pandemic Diary: Take me to church, and also gambling, but whatever you do, don’t come over for dinner

Monday, November 23, 2020


The masked woman brings me bra after bra. I’m stripped to the waist but masked—damned straight this is weird, damned pandemic! I’m finally buying myself another ridiculously expensive French lace bra. Yes, it’s weaved of gold and the underwire is platinum—I’m not sure how else one can justify the price. I can only afford it, barely, because a dear friend has, for two Christmases in a row, given me gift cards to this lingerie mecca.

A good bra, like a good hair cut, takes ten pounds off—all around the belly too—and shaves a decade off your wrinkled, aging face. True story, and I wish I weren’t that vain, but I am. Also, here I am, surrounded by frilly, beautiful things, and I am relaxed. Really relaxed. Well, except for the mask. That’s still weird, will always be weird—I don’t want it to become normal. I want it to be an anomaly.

Want, want—but what is, is. I wear the mask and remember that things were much, much worse in maskless December 2018, when I received that first gift card—and could not even think about using it for more than a year—and worse in an even worse way in December 2019, when I thought thing were better but found out I was just blind and delusional. I kind of want to dare December 2020 to bring it on, do its worst—what can it do? I’ve been to hell and back—facing your own helplessness to save the life, health of a child is the second worst thing one can experience. (The worst thing is losing that child; I’ve lived both. There are, really, no horrors left.)

Lingerie store. Mask. Bra. December coming, November blues facing, but oh, I’m so afraid of December. It’s never easy. It’s the month of shitty anniversaries, and anniversaries make pain fresh. This year, pandemic. Even with the gift card, I can’t really afford this bra. The woman helping me—her name is Kira—can’t either. How many hours does she have to work at this minimum wage retail job to afford these two triangles of French lace? I do the math—it’s brutal.

Today, she’s working. Tomorrow? Who knows. The Chief Medical Officer says we’re in crisis. There will be further restrictions, recommendations. Kira will likely be unemployed just before Christmas and her employer bankrupt by the first quarter of 2021.

I am afraid of December.

Kira asks me about my plans for the day, as I pay for the bra with a combination of gift cards and credit cards, and make a note to self to not replace my blender, nor buy any meat, until after December 15, when the credit card bill rolls over to the next month.

“I’ve got a couple of friends coming over,” I say, then wish I hadn’t spoken. “I guess for a semi-illegal thing,” I add. Not illegal yet. Just… frowned upon. I want to over-explain, that this is my COVID cohort, we’re all safe and responsible and nobody licks doorknobs and we really see nobody other than each other, not really, I promise we’re not the reason the COVID numbers are climbing—that idiot who wanted to shop mask-free at Costco after testing positive is the reason, don’t paint us with the same tar…

But I don’t. Kira and I exchange looks and she says, “Friends are important.”

I nod.

Especially in December.

“Which one do you think I got?”


My newsfeed is very black and white. Well, mostly black: my friends and social media acquaintances take the pandemic very seriously and, really, overwhelmingly want another full-on lockdown. I don’t have hoaxers and rabid anti-maskers sharing news memes and outrage in my feeds, because, well, social media silos and I mostly associate with smart, thinking people.

But this time around, I am out of synch with my silo. I am, to be honest, ashamed of its lack of empathy and compassion towards people trying to navigate an unprecedented situation in the face of a pronounced lack of political leadership. They are trying to do their best for their children, for their businesses and for their livelihoods—for their mental health.

They don’t need to be called stupid and selfish for struggling and trying to carve out some sense of normalcy, of life amidst the current chaos—especially given the confused messaging from their leaders.

Things are about to get worse. And people are about to start getting shittier to each other. Nastier. More judgemental.

You: “My neighbours have people over! Why are people so stupid and selfish?”

Her: “Sheeple!”

Him: “That woman’s not wearing a mask! Fucking bitch!”

Them: “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see your rights are being taken away?”

Just what we need for December.

“Take me to church, but don’t come over for coffee.”


The new bra buys me a little bit of happiness and, that night, resting in the presence, arms and love of my two friends gives me more. We’ll get through this because I’ve been actively building our cohort for months, since I started worrying about the second wave and November and December and another lockdown, way back in August. In a more significant way, I’ve been building this cohort for years. We will get through it together—by which I mean our “little” together. The macro “together” of the slogans? I don’t think it exists. You don’t care about me. I don’t care about you. We’re too abstract to each other—academic, unreal. Also, shrill and nasty and who wants to be kind to an asshole?

Not me.

But I really care about my people. And you care about yours, right?

Care about them, for them a lot.

Especially in December.



“Brunette in despair”

Thursday, November 26

So Alberta’s new second wave restrictions, while keeping pretty much everything unchanged and opened, took my safe social cohort away from me, and I’m trying really hard not to feel despair.

The sad thing here is that I haven’t yet had a chance to experience the effects of social isolation. I’m just stripped so raw already that its spectre is making me feel physically ill. No friends in my house. But I can go to a casino or a mall. Fuck me hard, my primitive monkey brain refuses to understand the logic of this.

Policy made by sexless introverted psychopaths who hate people isn’t conductive to good mental health, you know?

If you need me, I’ll be in my bath tub with Scotch and chocolate. I know it’s 9 a.m. It’s 2020 and it’s almost December.

Merry Christmas.

“Alt title: fuckity-fuckity-fuck.”

Pandemic Diary: Principles of Propaganda, a FREE primer for the Government of Alberta + Random Acts of Kindness, a FREE primer for the rest of us


Sometimes, I teach propaganda, and today, I want to teach our political leaders how to use propaganda, because, while reprehensible and usually unethical, it is a very effective communications tool, and their COVID-19 communication strategy at this moment, to use a highly technical public relations term, sucks ass.

Principle 1: Effective propaganda (like all effective opinion writing, btw), has a single, clearly articulated position.

Therefore, “COVID-19 can be effectively mitigated by washing hands, not touching your face, wearing a mask and keeping six feet apart—OMG—why aren’t you people just doing that—it’s so simple and the virus is so deadly—the numbers are spiking—you’re killing the elderly—you’re all going to die—don’t stress, just wash your hands—stay home but only if you really want to—why isn’t everyone doing their part to stop the spread?” is not effective propaganda.

Principle 2: Effective propaganda identifies a common enemy. A scape goat. This is sad but effective, because the concept of “enemy” is pretty primal. If you don’t give the people a common enemy to focus on and hate, they turn on each other. And while they might say they hate the WHO, say, or the CDC, or the Chief Medical Officer—who they actually hate is the guy next door and the woman ahead of them in the  grocery store line-up.

The common enemy is COVID-19. Repeat after me: the common enemy is COVID-19. Dr. Hinshaw actually said this in today’s briefing, brilliant woman. Let’s say it again: The common enemy is the fucking virus. Not your neighbour who’s just hosted a birthday party, and not your co-worker who made you feel like shit for going on a date.


Frustrated and angry? Me too, sister, me too. The approved mantra is, “Fuck you, COVID-19.”

Not “Why are people so stupid and selfish!”

They are not the enemy. Your neighbours are not the enemy. They are doing a shitty job of following the rules because their leaders are doing a shitty job of leading them—and really failing at the effectuve propaganda thing.

Who’s the enemy?

That’s right. The virus. Not your disempowered, frustrated, frightened neighbours.

Principle 3: Effective propaganda empowers. This is key: effective propaganda tells people what they can do to win the war, preferably in slogans. Loose lips sink ships. Put that light out! Make do and mend! Do your part—stay six feet apart.

See what’s happening there? It gives people a determined, simple, non-negotiable action item. Giving them this action item—giving them instructions vests them with power. This is kinda paradoxical on the face of it, but modern psychologists can explain to you in great detail why this is true (shorthand: we’re really just very articulate monkeys; we’re not that great with freedom and choice, tbh). So—want people to feel empowered by your propaganda? Tell them what to do.

Put that light out!

Not—We encourage everyone, if they think they’re capable of it and it doesn’t conflict with their self of what they’re entitled to or comfortable with, to put out their lights. It would really help. We’re not going to infringe on this, because we really don’t want to infringe on personal liberties. But, like. Please? Because otherwise, things will get worse.

Got it? Effective propaganda empowers by being commanding. Imperative.

It does not plead: Please, please stay home—but if you do go out to frequent the businesses that we’re keeping open, because nobody wants another lockdown, make sure you’re safe and do all the things we’re asking you to do, okay? Yes? Will you?

It declares: Stay home. Save lives.

Go back to principle 1 now. Can’t remember what it is? It’s ok—all of us have impaired, shitty memories right now. Pandemic stress. I’ll repeat it: Effective propaganda has a single clearly articulated position.

It’s not journalism or a reasoned argument. THE OTHER SIDE DOES NOT EXIST.

So. You cannot simultaneously tell people, “Stay home. Save Lives!” and “Schools are safe though and please, go shopping LOTS and keep the economy going—restaurants and bars are totally okay too, if you stop drinking by 10 pm and are home and in bed—alone—by 11.”

It doesn’t actually matter if restaurants and bars are totally okay, by the way. You just can’t sell it like that. “We’re in a crisis way worse than when we implemented the lockdown back in the spring. But we’re not closing anything down. Restaurants are not the problem. Entertaining your friends at home is.”

The stressed, strained monkey brain does not compute. At all.

It needs a Single. Clearly. Articulated. Position.

An empowering, clear and direct Call to Action.

And a common enemy—that, in this case, is the virus.

Not the people next door.


So there you go. These are the three essential principles of effective propaganda, all of which are missing from Alberta’s and Canada’s COVID-19 communications strategy right now. There is a fourth one that kind of runs through all three of these: propaganda makes the complex simple. That’s what makes it intellectually suspect and also dangerous. And that’s why if you want to wield its power for the benefit of the great social good, you’ve gotta thread carefully.

Our government is refusing to wield this power, and it has delegated the responsibility for flattening the second wave of the pandemic to the people on the street. (Btw, notice how it has arrived right on schedule? I mean, in March, we could at least claim we didn’t know what was coming—Bob and Bob’s uncle, not to mention the WHO and Health Canada and the CDC were all warning of a November spike since… April.)

This quasi-libertarian delegation of responsibility and abrogation of leadership sucks. It’s very very unfair. We the people on the street cannot speak with a single voice. We do not espouse a single, clearly articulated position. We are many; we have conflicting views, beliefs, priorities. Values.

But let’s agree on this: the common enemy is COVID-19.

I think you can get behind this even if you think COVID-19 is a hoax. Your tweak on this mantra: the common enemy is the COVID-19 hoax. There. That’s the enemy. Not the bus driver. Not your neighbour. Not the retail clerk who asks you to wear a mask. Not the customer who refuses to wear a mask.

The common enemy is COVID-19.

And we’re going to kill that motherfucker’s ass by committing random acts of kindness towards our friends, neighbours and strangers.

COVID-19 sucks, people, but we don’t have to.

(That’s my propaganda mantra, btw, and I think it’s pretty effective even though it doesn’t rhyme.)

What? You’d rather just bitch about how your neighbour sucks?

Well, fuck you.

No. Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. You are not the enemy. COVID-19 is the enemy. So what you’re going to do, is you’re going to go buy your favourite chocolate bar—yes, you can just steal it from your kids’ candy stash if there’s anything left over from Halloweeen. Write a note.

“COVID-19 sucks, but we don’t have to” is my suggestion. But feel free to elaborate and be gushy. Or trashy.

Pop it in your neighbour’s mailbox instead of glaring at them for not responding to the government’s lack of response to the pandemic in the same way you do.

It’s not the vaccine (but hey, there’s good news on that front this week, right?). But random acts of kindness—I recommend gifts of chocolate, although Scotch, wine, weed and pizza will also do the trick, and flowers are nice too, although you can’t eat or drink them—will get us through this while governments fail us with mixed messages.



PS Disinfect the chocolate bar wrapper, by all means, or wear latex gloves. You know the drill. Also, if you’re engaging in personal propaganda—remember our three principles. A single, clearly articulated message. A common enemy (the virus, not the mayor, not the premier—I know we want to make it the premier, but no, it’s the virus—not the snotty senior on the C-train). An empowering, clear call to action.

“COVID-19 sucks, but we don’t have to.”

Now, go give people some weed, wine, and chocolate.

(I’m also accepting cigars, because, fuck it, I’ve given up on shepherding my lungs through this. But that’s another story.)

Pandemic diary: But if the world is ending, I don’t want six pack abs…


I’m doing writer stretches this morning.

Word plus word plus word equals sentence. Two or three of those make a paragraph—except this one, it stands alone, and this one is fat, seven sentences long. Hmmm, take the scalpel that is the return key and split that chunker in half.

I’m not saying you can’t have long paragraphs in your work.

But if you want people to read it? You shouldn’t.

A great deal of my teaching/coaching work involves undoing the work of English teachers everywhere. Sometimes, I feel bad about it.

Most of the time, I do it with glee.


I’m writing about writer stretches and thinking about body stretches, which I haven’t been giving my body for months.

Body: I can’t stretch myself, you know.

Jane: I know. But exercise is so boring and I just want to eat chocolate croissants instead.

I go for a walk in the crisp November sunshine with a friend then spend the evening wrapped in the love of another. Some of the businesses in my city are entering a voluntary lockdown for a couple of weeks to help the health authorities get ahead of the second wave. It’s a good moral call, but financial suicide.

Body: What the hell does that have to do with your refusal to exercise me?

Jane: Everything. Everything is interconnected.


Everything is interconnected, and that simultaneously makes us strong and also vulnerable, and I really should do some sit-ups this morning and maybe hold the plank for 45 seconds, but really, if the end of the world is coming, do I want to gout with six pack abs or with the memory of pain au chocolate on my tongue?

Body: You hate me.

Jane: I’m doing writer stretches and when I finish, I don’t really want to do physical stretches all alone on the floor of my living room. You know?

I thought gyms were stinking cesspools of infection and disease before the pandemic, anyway. But I did go. Once in a while.

Body: 15 lousy sit-ups. Come on.

Jane: And then, a croissant?

Body: You’re hopeless.

I am, it’s true. Optimism in my heels and hope floating up into the atmosphere like helium, escaping one atom at a time over the past few months… not much of it left.

Still. The important part of me feels stretched.

Body: I’m dying here.

Jane: Shut up. Eat some chocolate. I’ll take you for a walk later.

Writer stretches.




Pandemic Diary: Suck it, 2020. I mean… let’s be excellent to each other, or at least not Grade-A jerks, ok?

I’ve started doing this thing in my morning pages where I begin every day with a Month… Date… 2020.

November 13, 2020.

November 14, 2020.

November 15, 2020.

And when I say I’ve started—I’ve been doing it for months. All year, really—definitely since March. My pre-2020 habit was to include the year in the first one or two entries of a new notebook. Now? Every day. 2020. It’s still 2020.

Well. Yes, it’s still 2020 but also, 2020 is almost over, isn’t it? Six weeks and this year ends and 2021 begins.

I’m kinda worried it will suck too. Maybe even worse. Lockdown, relaunch, get sloppy, bitch and complain, lockdown, repeat. I am hoping Pfizer will save us all—at least, the 80 percent of us willing to take the vaccine—but my optimism is in my heels. Also, I hate you all. I’d apologize but a) I wouldn’t mean it, and b) you hate me—and us all—too. We’re frayed and we’re angry, and it’s getting harder and harder to be kind.

I get it.

I don’t like it—but I get it.

My notebook is full of a month of posts, untranscribed and unpublished, in which I let myself hate you audibly, loudly, enthusiastically. Not constructive, I know. But cathartic. I feel a little better now—not loving and selfless, by any stretch of the imagination, but. You know. Somewhat compassionate. A little understanding.

It’s a start.

So, 2020. Six weeks to go in the year in which nothing went as planned. There must have been high points, beautiful moments, right? Halloween was one of mine but if I tell you that, you’ll make me feel bad, so I suppress that post. And there were others, too, ones that maybe I could share, recall, if I tried, but it’s hard. The shadow of the pandemic and the paralyzing uncertainty it created in the souls and lives of everyone who thinks and feels—it’s a long shadow.

I think it eats happiness.

I know it eats your happiness as much as it eats mine. We show our frustration in different ways. You hoard toilet paper—I mock you for hoarding toilet paper—you call me an idiot for not taking anything seriously enough.

Both reactions—all reactions are valid. 2020 and the pandemic are kicking our collective ass. So, like… let’s not be nasty to each other because we’re suffering. Imagine this. Let’s not, let’s just not. Is it possible? Let’s not be nasty with each other for being frustrated, confused, angry, depressed, frayed to the breaking point.

Let’s keep in mind that while a record number of Canadians filed for unemployment at the height of the lockdown, twice if not thrice that many have seen their income halved—or decimated—and don’t qualify for any assistance. (Raises hand, looks at line of credit, sighs.)

Let’s keep in mind that we are poorly designed to deal with an ongoing crisis. A one-day, one-week emergency? We got it! A month? That’s pushing it. A year-long crisis with no end in sight? We’re done, we’re fried, we don’t know how to cope.

Crisis fatigue.

It’s a thing.

I’m doing a lot of thinking about “How the fuck did my grandparents get through six years of World War 2 and Nazi occupation?” And “how the fuck did my entire extended family get through 44 years of Soviet occupation”?

(Also—how did my daughter get through 2019? She did. She did.)

And I must believe that they did this by NOT being assholes to each other.

My cup of frustration runeth over, and also, I know, does yours. Let’s drink from them to more understanding and patience and less knee-jerk hate and anger in these last six weeks of the year that wouldn’t end. With non-alcoholic pomegranate juice, because I think I’m drinking too much again and I won’t say anything, no judgement, times are tough, but so are you.

This is my goal for the rest of 2020: let’s not let the crisis and fear turn us into assholes.

We can do better.

Except that dude over there. He was an asshole before; he’s a bigger one now—he’ll be unbearable in 2021. There’s no hope—expand no energy on him, don’t fixate on him. You can’t save him.

You and me, though?

We can do better.

We will do better.

Suck it, 2020.



Pandemic Diary: Less enthusiasm, more chocolate


Before I start, a caveat: no, you can’t make me happy, no, you can’t do anything right. It’s 2020 and pretty much everything sucks, and the good things are so comparatively small, it takes supreme acts of will to appreciate them.


You: How are things?

Jane: Things are ok.

You: I’m glad things are ok!

Wait, wait, wait, WTF? Where did that exclamation mark, that enthusiasm come from? Things are—ok. Not Ok!


Never mind. Let’s just talk in GIFs and memes, and misinterpret those instead.

I love texting / I hate texting and because right now texting is the dominant mode of communication between me and the world—I really hate texting and I guess I could pick up the phone and call you, but I’ve forgotten how to do that. Also, tbh, I don’t really want to fix my problems. I just want to complain about them.

You: Are you sure things are ok?

Jane: Yeah, they’re fine.

You: I’m glad things are fine!

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Maybe we just shouldn’t talk.


Things are ok. Fine. No exclamation mark, please, no excessive enthusiasm or toxic positivity, ok? It’s 2020 and breathing is hard—especially if you’re a Black American—what, did you think I was going to make it about masks? Come on, honey. Choose a better hill to die on.

Things are hard, but ok, ok but hard, ok and hard. That can be a thing, right. This and that.

Ok and hard.

You: I’m afraid to say anything.

Jane: I know. Just, like… don’t use exclamation marks or thumbs up emojis when you text me, ok?

You: ok!

Now you’re mocking me. Why would you do that?


You cannot make me happy and I cannot make you happy, because it’s 2020 and even when things are ok, they’re definitely not ok! and they’re hard. But we can NOT make things worse, for each other, personally, anyway, right

You: Wait, I figured this out!

Jane: It’s not that hard. Just drop the damned exclamation marks and send hugs.

You: No, no, I got this. Let me try again.

Fine. Why not? Ok and hard, and I can deal with your attempt to deal with negativity—or neutrality—by drowning me in enthusiasm and positivity, because I love you, and… Fine. Ok. You may try again.

You: How are things?

Jane: They’re ok.

You: Chocolate?

OMG! Yes! I love you! Thank you!



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.


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?


Slow as molasses. Stupid to boot.

Writing anyway.



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.



The portrait that defines us as a family right now…