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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Scream as much as you need to.

Just, like… not at me?

xoxo

“Jane”

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

drafted in late November

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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?

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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.

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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.

xoxo

Jane

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?

Ugh.

Decision fatigue. Pandemic fatigue. Sniff.

Yawn.

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

Yuck.

Also, fuck.

😦

Jane

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

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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?”

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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.”

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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.

xoxo

“Jane”

“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

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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.

THE COMMON ENEMY IS COVID-19.

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.

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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.

xoxo

“Jane”

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…

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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.

ii

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.

iii

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.

Ouch.

xoxo

“Jane”

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.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Less enthusiasm, more chocolate

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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.

Anyway:

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!

LOL.

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.

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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?

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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!

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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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.

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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

i

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.)

ii

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.

iii

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

i

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.

ii

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.

ii

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”