“Vengeance is mine”


Jane: That’s it. I’m done. I can’t walk another step, I’m calling an Uber.

Cinder: Come on, Mom. We’re almost there. All the cool stuff is just around the corner.

Jane: You said that two kilometres ago. And four kilometres ago.

Cinder: We’re almost there. Don’t be a wuss.

Jane: OMFG why will you not let me call an Uber?

Cinder: Remember all those family death marches you took us on when we were kids?

Jane: …

Cinder: And that time in Havana you made us walk all the way to the Hemingway Marina?

 Jane: …

Cinder: Vengeance is mine.


So I’m in Vancouver with my eldest progeny, days shy of his twenty-first birthday, stupid fit, and apparently determined to kill me. We’re walking 20 to 30 kilometres a day, partly to avoid Vancouver traffic, partly because Vancouver is so very walkable (East Hastings and some of the bridges except, but that does not stop us), partly, as I find out on the last day, as payback for all the walking and exploring I inflicted on the children when they were younger. 

Vengeance is his.

Raise fit kids, they said. Make them play outside, they said.

I really need to stop listening to them.


I don’t think he appreciates how well I’m doing, though, keeping up with him. I’m doing that damn 6.8 kilometre hike across Stanley Park into the West End – and then back at the end of the day – at the end of the day with nary a murmur, ligament-light knees, misaligned pelvis, malfunctioning SI joints, and let’s not talk about what’s happening with the cartilage-less vertebrae, notwithstanding.

I’m pretty happy with my performance. My feet and shins hurt, but the back-hip-joint pain, my constant companion for the past 15 years and flaring up badly the past year, is proving the point that these days, it’s sitting that’s killing me, not exercise.

But not this week. No time for sitting this week, we’ve got bridges to cross.


I’ve never experienced Vancouver at quite this pace before. 

(A travelogue, for my reference purposes, follows. For the punchline, skip to section v)


On the night we arrive, after driving 973 km in about 11 hours and six minutes, we do our first hike from North Vancouver across Stanley Park to the West End and join the hordes of people at English Bay to watch a sunset. 

The sunset is indifferent: we are from the land of pornographic skies and spectacular sunsets, and we’ve had the Northern Lights on every other night over the last little while, so, you know, the boy is hard to impress. But the Persian meal we devour for supper does impress even him (Kaghan Restaurant – we are spoiled for choice on Denman). We Uber to the hotel that night, but just to pick up the car and drive to the Richmond Night Market.

I don’t know how to describe the Richmond Night Market. You should probably just go and see it; bring cash, go hungry.


The next day, we do all the things. Literally. Hike across Lion’s Bridge, and then around the Stanley Park seawall. Stroll a bit through Denman and Davie – find some amazing ice cream – keep on walking to the False Creek Ferry Terminal, where I convince him to hop the boat across to Granville Island (he wants to walk across the bridge). We explore the Island and I buy him some overpriced artisan leather works, also, fish and chips. We take the ferry to Yale Town and walk up to Pacific Centre and around Robson and Gastown, skirt the edge of Chinatown and end up at the Plaza of Nations – a ferry to Granville again and another to Kitslana. The Beaches. Final ferry ride to Denman, then we search for what’s supposed to be the best sushi in town – so we overheard some random dude telling some other random people on Granville, and we really don’t know any better.

(It is maybe not the best sushi we’ve ever had. But it’s very good. Miku on Robson. Yum.)

Then, an 8 kilometre walk back to the hotel, through the interior of Stanley Park at night. We don’t die, and we only run into two slightly sketchy people. Everyone else is a cyclist.


On the third day, it rains and progeny wants to see Richmond (long story, don’t ask), so we get in the car, avoid the traffic on the bridge and have a pretty smooth drive into Richmond. We explore Richmond pretty thoroughly, then drive to the UBC campus to check out the  Biodiversity Museum and walk around the Museum of Anthropology. We walk down the 400? 500? Steps to Wreck Beach, even though it’s gross and cold, just so that we can say we did it. Then, we drive to Chinatown for dim sum at Jade Dynasty Restaurant and eat all the things.

I take him to Blim, which is basically next door, and buy him a couple of outrageous outfits, and a present for his brother. Next, Commercial Drive – via a look at East Hastings and Main, because I think it needs to be seen, talked about, processed.

Then, we drive to Burnaby to check out City of Lougheed – the boy likes modern buildings and is fascinated by the execution of the Lougheed concept – before heading back to the downtown area. I had seen a Persian teahouse – potentially a sheesha lounge – on our earlier walkabout adventures and I think it might be a good place to sit and chill for a couple of hours, so we track it down and are treated to an… interesting experience. (The sheesha is terrible, the atmosphere is not – I’m conflicted about introducing my son to my one substantial vice, but there it is, I do it.)

Then we wander down Granville Street for a while and find an Irish pub, share a pint of Guinness – the first drink we’ve had together since he turned 18 in 2020.

We eat dimsum and Persian leftovers for a late dinner in our hotel room that night, sleep like the dead.


We have no agenda for Monday, so we start the day by going up Capilano Road to the tourist trap Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. I’m not saying it’s not pretty – it is. But the pricetag. Dear god. I push through my fear of heights and walk the bridge, the clfif walk and the canopy walk with the child, all the while talking about cars.

I know nothing about cars, but knowledge is not required. Listening is.

We hit a Belgian waffle house off Denman for a brunchy-lunchy, and eat delicious things before heading back across Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate Bridge to West Vancouver and Lighthouse Park. The drive is beautiful as is the park. We walk. A lot. I guess it’s a mini-hike. There’s al lighthouse. Big trees. Conversation.

We drive back to the hotel, I think, to rest. No. We’re just ditching the car to walk back across the bridge and Stanley Park. I weep. I negotiate: the demon child wants to run around the Stanley Park seawall, because he didn’t get enough exercise yesterday. I walk the short way through the park with the plan to meet him at English Bay.

He laps the all twice and runs all the way to Granville and back before I make it to Denman. We find a Greek place on Denman and eat all the food.

I desperately want to Uber back to the hotel. But we don’t.


The plan is to Uber to Lonsdale Quay and take the seabus across to Canada Place. But of course we don’t Uber. Why would we? It’s only 48 minutes and mostly downhill and we have time, so we walk. We explore Lonsdale Quay, then hop the bus across. Walk to and around Canada Place, and then to the Harbour Air dock for a seaplane tour of Vancouver. This is the kid’s special treat, but, also, to be honest, my motivation: here is 45 minutes that I can spend not walking.

I manage to forget, somewhere along the line that I’m really afraid of heights, Oops.

The plane ride is marvellous. Although we both feel sick when we hit the mountains.

That afternoon, we separate. I set him free to roam – and suggest he stay away from East Hastings, but, you know, odds are he can outrun any trouble – while I meet my Vancouver colleagues for lunch.

We reconvene in a couple of hours on Granville Island. I Uber there. He, of course, walks, through Olympic Village.

We visit our favourite places on Granville, then take in the car dealerships on Burrard (yes, all of them) and explore along 4th Avenue in Kitslano. 

It’s after that that he enacts his vengeance.

We end the day with ramen at Jin Ya – and an Uber ride back to the hotel.

The next morning, we leave Vancouver at 6 a.m. to drive to Kelowna – but that’s another story.


It’s a good trip. He says, I feel. I have felt distant from this eldest child of mine for some time: I feel I basically threw him to the wolves and told him to fend for himself when his sister got so ill and, well, he did, but I had felt I had lost him even before he got so angry at my about the divorce. His sojourn in Kelowna during the pandemic was both healthy and necessary but I lost him even more during that time.

I don’t know that I find him, or help him find me, on the trip. But perhaps I set up some signposts.

Get in a lot of steps.

Learn that revenge is a dish best served walked.



PS I’d post photos, but then I’d never actually hit publish on this post, so if you want to “see” this trip, check out my Instagram – @nothingbythebook. It’s private, because single Christian fathers of four and retired military colonels keep on following me and sending me creepy message requests, but if you have a legit Insta handle – and do not claim to be a single Christian father of four or a retired military colonel on your profile – I’ll probably let you follow me. 😉

On the price of peace


A text from London: “Have you heard, how are you feeling, wanted to check in on you, knew it would hit you hard.”

I haven’t heard. But now that I have, I’m fine. The impending death, current suffering of someone I’ve neither seen nor thought about in twenty, more, years doesn’t pain me.

Does it?

Should it?

The feelings come after: some shame and guilt at not joining the frenzy of concern, care and support for an old friend. Narcissistic concern that perhaps I am broken beyond repair. Why don’t I care?

Sometime around Christmas 2018, my world shrunk down to my three children, the sick one more than the others, and there was nothing left for anyone else.

The tank is still empty, there is no reserve, no extra space in my emotional bandwidth.

And I’m not sure that this is a bad thing.


Person I can’t wait to get away from: Well, this was lovely. I hope I get the chance to dance with you under the stars.

You won’t. Jesus. Were you at the same date I was? I can’t wait to get away. In the 45 minutes that it took me to finish my matcha latte, the person sitting opposite me found it necessary to tell me that I should take yoga, have my hormones checked, drink less caffeine, teach my parents better communication skills, stop throwing money away by renting, embrace minimalism, get out of my neighbourhood more, be less guarded and be more open to manifesting what I want in life.

I focus on manifesting a quick end to the date and debate if I should complete the circle of unsolicited advice by explaining to him why he is single and will probably die alone, albeit while doing yoga and not drinking caffeine.

I don’t.

I actually love dating in my (so very late) 40s. I’m confident, experienced, uninvested in the end result and while I’m perhaps not sure what I want – after all, life offers almost infinite variety – I’m crystal clear on what I don’t want.

Don’t want that.

Do you?


I am not as unaffected by the news of my old friend’s ill health as I initially think. I had loved him once. If 30 years ago – even 20 – he had needed one of my kidneys, I would not have hesitated.

The grief comes in dreams and nightmares. I mourn in my sleep.

When I wake up, my world contracts and focuses again: Flora. Ender. Cinder. More or less in that order. Even though Ender is the youngest, it is still Flora’s life that is most fragile.

With all three of them, the prevalent, daily worry: am I short-changing them? Am I giving enough? 

Flora, Ender, Cinder. Writing. Work.


I used to be able to give other people, friends and strangers, more. Something. I remember that person and I value her.

I would like to be her again.

And perhaps I will be.

But not yet.


My lover is far away right now and I miss them and I miss the person I am when I am with them. They see in me a person capable of kindness and love and compassion. They think I love enough. It’s a nice, comforting feeling.


I compose a text: “Hey. It’s Jane. I just heard. Much love.”

So lame. Not enough. What’s the point?

I don’t press send.


Mondays and Tuesdays, I aim for a 6:30 start at work so that I can log off at 2:30 guilt-free and go pick up Ender from school. I could outsource the school pick up to a classmate’s mother or to my own but that 20 minutes in the car, side by side, is precious. I get the fresh memories from the school day, I get to be there while he processes the day. Then we do homework – I occasionally work a little bit more in-between relearning algebra, trigonometry and grade eight science.

Until last month, Mondays and Wednesdays, instead of lunch, I’d drive Flora to her Chem 30 class, also for that 20 minutes of precious time in the car.

Wednesdays and Fridays, I drive Cinder to the train station at 6:45 to shave an hour off his commute to school. We don’t talk much, because it’s early in the morning and we’re both cranky and sleepy. But it’s something.

Wednesdays and Fridays, I work from home so Ender and I can keep on unschooling. Thursdays, a long day in the office to make up for my scattered professional attention on Wednesday-Friday.

Tuesdays and Fridays, I take care of my spine by letting Pilates instructors torture me.

Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, the kids and I eat supper together, sometimes watch movies or play board games. I try to cook. These days, Flora and I spend Sundays meal planning, shopping and cooking something fancy.

Saturday nights, I walk or drive Flora to her D&D game (campaign? Meeting?) I have learned that “did you win?” is not the right question to ask when I go to pick her up at midnight. Recently, one of her fellow campaigners drives her home. I should be grateful, but I’m not, not really.

I’m hyper-aware there aren’t a lot of those Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons left.

It’s all borrowed time.

I write in the mornings, before I do anything else, cardamom flavoured coffee beside me. It’s not enough: I need to return to the habit of writing mid-day and in the evening. But neither the stories nor the deadlines are urgent right now. The ordinary time with my children –  and the time it sometimes takes to recover from it –  is.


Text from London: “Are you all right? You sound burdened.”

I’m not. I’m actually, on the whole, the happiest I have been in years, decades. I haven’t been inside a hospital in forever. I know exactly how I’m going to pay the rent – so long as my landlord doesn’t get greedy (or desperate) and decides to raise it. I go to sleep at 8:45 so I can wake up and write at 5. Sometimes, on Friday and Saturday nights –  Tuesdays in the summer –  I dance, sometimes, I go out for dinner or coffee or dates. Through it all, my priorities, my purpose are all crystal clear.

I’m at peace.

But empty.

That can be a thing.


I type out a text: “Hey. It’s Jane. I’ve just heard. Thinking of you. Realize nothing one can do or say that’s helpful… just thinking of you and sending love.”

I press send.

It’s so lame.

It’s not enough.

It’s something.

My heart aches.

It’s not enough –  I’m empty –  I’m at peace.



Untraditionally yours: What sort of Christmas do you want to have?


Happy Saint Nicholas Day! Today is the day that children in Poland and other countries touched by the legend look in the boots they shined the night before and find a little present, perhaps some candy, and, in the case of my brother and me, a letter from Saint Nick setting out exactly what level of good we need to reach over the next 18 day to get a gift on Christmas Eve.

My family dropped the tradition somewhere along the line after we landed in Canada, replacing it with the chocolate Advent calendar (we never quite figured out the stocking thing). I never did it with my children.

I’m actually not sure that I own boot polish.

Traditions. They can come and go, you know.


I struggle with Christmas. I used to love it and then I hated it, more and more, without understanding why. (You’re thinking crass commercialism—nope.) More than a decade would pass before I realized that on Christmas Eve 2003 I started bleeding, didn’t stop for five days, and when I woke up in the hospital on the morning of December 30, I was no longer pregnant and the remnants of my son—his name was going to be Kieran Adam—were god knows where and I felt so empty and I wanted to die but I had a toddler and it was the most wonderful time of the year, Season’s Greetings, party party, so I had to put the grief away.

It’s been 19 years.

It comes back every December.


Ender and I are having a disagreement over the Christmas tree. I don’t have one. I don’t want one.

Ender: That’s what you open the presents under. You need one.

I will, of course, get one. He and I will head out together and get the perfect Christmas tree that will shed needles all over my floor—likely get toppled by the cats—but, whatever. I will get one.

Some fights, the kids always win.

Ender: Can we go to Safeway and buy some snacks? You’ve got nothing in the house except for vegetables.



At work, I’m struggling with EOY burnout. EOY, btw, stands for End of Year, and EOD is End of Day and OOAS is Overuse of Acronyms Syndrome, a poorly understood neurological disease that large organizations and texters are both prone to, lol, wtf, brb, kwim?

Back to burnout: the week in Cuba (I went to Cuba, did you know?) was marvellous (but I’m back now, I wish I wasn’t), but I still wake up exhausted. And it’s cold and dark out. It’s not just me. My whole team is running on empty right now—we just want to nap.

We need to pretend to work—and intermittently actually work—for two, three more weeks. If you think about it, barely 10 days, really. Not a lot of new projects get launched in the week just before Christmas.

We don’t call it Christmas at work though. Just the Holidays.


My family celebrates on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is for hangovers and leftovers. The kids spend December 24 with me and in the late afternoon, we head over to my parents to sit down for the Christmas Eve feast extravaganza. We eat when the first star appears in the sky (yeah, so basically at 4:33 p.m.).

It’s a largely secular Christmas, although we do share the Body of Christ before we sit down to the barszcz and fish soup.

On Christmas Day, the kids are with their dad and his family, and I’m crafting new traditions. They might involve binge-watching Bridgerton in bed, atheist/heathen potluck with other folk for whom December 25 is just a day off, or a writing marathon.

Traditions. They all start, in the beginning as a one off event that you choose to repeat. And repeat.

Until you don’t.

Traditions can be started.



Happy EOY to all those who celebrate.



PS Christmas tree acquired.

Cowboy boots, 21st century love and the road less travelled


I always wear my cowboy boots on my business trips to Toronto.

I don’t know whether your neck of the woods has a city that thinks it’s the centre of the universe and disses everyone who’s not from it—probably, eh? And then, the flipside: a city that knows it’s not the centre of the universe and works harder, parties harder … and has a bit of an inferiority complex in regards to the more sophisticated, snotty older sibling? It doesn’t help that that more sophisticated, snotty older sibling glories in putting down the upstart younger one—nevermind that the younger one, maybe, actually has more talent, a better job, a snazzier car and, damn straight, a better quality of life… but still isn’t the parents’ favourite?

That’s Toronto and pretty much every other city in Canada, especially my hometown of Calgary. As a Calgarian who has lived in Warsaw, Rome, Berlin, Paris, London and Montreal—and spent some time in New York, hush, we don’t need to mention my age at the time—I find Toronto’s attitude… cute.

I love visiting, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got fave clubs, restaurants and galleries—there a lots of benefits to being the biggest and having that population density. But when the city puts on its attitude—which it does as soon as you tell it you’re from Calgary—I like to hitch up my skirt, look at my boots, and pay homage to Nancy Sinatra.


I’m in Toronto for six days, three pleasure, three business, although everything gets all mixed up in the end. I’m in town chiefly to visit my beloved and to try to figure out how, or even if, we’re going to navigate this phase of what has never been a typical relationship.

Love in 2021 looks like this, by the way: you leave your cat in the care of a new love while you go visit the one who left the city but not your heart, and nobody thinks it’s weird. Except possibly your parents, so like, let’s not talk about it.

You: You’re blogging about it.

Jane: Totally different. Hush. You’re breaking my flow.

You drive me to the airport at 4:30 a.m., and that’s also 21st century love, isn’t it, anam cara? Moments like this, I do think that we are changing the world, dismantling some of its most cherished assumptions one act of heartfelt kindness, love, desire at a time.


I don’t know that I get any clarity as such during my visit. But I think a lot of things, all of them true.

First—there is no substitute for face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh contact. Professionally, personally, I don’t care: Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, Telegram, they’re barely methadone. Sit across from me over a cup of coffee for 15 minutes, and we’ll have moved our relationship forward 75 Teams meetings. Kiss my eyes once and it’s worth a thousand texts.

(To clarify, the kiss my eyes comment is personal, not professional. Just in case any of my new co-workers are reading: I am aware there is an HR manual, and it’s pretty clear: no eye kissing in the workplace.)

(Although I do occasionally send “smooches” to my director via text in response to compliments and forgiveness. Maybe I should stop that.)

(Where was I?)

(Here: There’s no substitute for face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh contact.)

Second—Toronto traffic is unadulterated hell. I don’t remember how Dante splits up the circles of hell exactly, but downtown Toronto, in a car? This is where the counterfeiters, hypocrites, grafters, seducers, sorcerers and simoniacs are punished.

And this is during the pandemic.

Third—the view from my Toronto office is to die for.

Fourth—for me to have the sort of life in Toronto that I have in Calgary, I would have to earn four to ten times as much as I do now.

Also, did I mention the traffic?

Him: Alternative–the flight was super cheap.

Fifth—children. Which is really the first and the final, and while one might be in Kelowna right now, and another planning a move to Vancouver, the little has at least six more years of Calgary growing to do, and, yeah, this is why I’m here to visit, and nothing more.

Him: I did mention the flight was super cheap…

Sixth—We’ve never actually spent six days together, 24/7 or as near as, and, fuck, by day three, I need my space back and so does my love, although when I ask him if it’s been too much, too long, he gets angry.

Seventh—I have a fabulous time (mostly) but I miss my kids, my friends, my life—my new love—with a shocking ferocity.

Eight—I’m in tears and pieces and utterly heartbroken, again, when I have to leave, but also at peace.


A frenemy once told me that whenever I’m faced with a choice between two things, I always choose the harder one. Even back then, I suspected they were right; right now, I choose the harder thing again and again. I know how the easy thing will go. How boring is that? So. Let’s try this. Let’s suffer, in this new way, for a while.

Him: Suffer?

Jane: None of it is easy.


None of it is easy, but, actually, truly, honestly? I’m really happy.

True story: but every time I start to talk about how I’m actually pretty happy, I start crying.

That doesn’t make the statement untrue.

I’m walking a hard path sometimes, but, really… I chose it. And I’m (mostly) happy.

A little heartbroken, but perversely, even that feels good.

Him: Masochist.

Jane: You know it.

The cowboy boots make it all easier.



Sleep is for the weak and other lies


Another two weeks, more, of daily hand-written pages, ideas—one really great post about how kids take good parenting for granted—and that’s how it should be—but why da fuq does my daughter notice how hard doing all the things is for her dad, but never, ever noticed it for me, nor does so now—and perhaps she never will, is this something she should notice?—and how can I really write about that while being both honest and taking the higher ground—also, then it goes into how friends take friends for granted and that’s kinda how it should be, but really, maybe not?—screw it, I’m not going to transcribe it.

Another draft post that starts like this:

I’m pretty sure this is Sun Tzu, or maybe Machiavelli:

Don’t back your opponent into a corner unless you want a fight to the death, which you might lose, cause nobody fights with the ferocity and abandon of the desperate.

(It’s neither Sun Tzu nor Machiavelli, but that’s using force of authority to launch into an otherwise weak argument.)

It’s supposed to be an intro to a post about how nobody is saying to the unvaccinated people (some of whom are among the people I love, and if you don’t have in your heart and life any people who think drastically differently than you on key issues, you’re part of all the problems): “I hear you. I think you’re wrong. But I hear you. So why do you think…” –> this is how you begin a conversation.

“You’re dumb and stupid and wrong and what the hell is wrong with you?” –> that’s how you end a relationship.

It’s a good idea, I think, but somehow it doesn’t work—I can’t make it do what I want it to do. Because, again, I realize, I’m holding back.

Moral of this disjointed story: You can’t be truthful unless you’re willing to hurt, possibly alienate people.

Usually, this is not a problem for me.

Right now? I think what the world needs right now is less “truth” and more kindness.


So I’m hanging out with Seth Godin at work (you can’t prove I wasn’t) and he says a bunch of things that are both insightful and obvious, and I find myself wondering why it is that the obvious seems so hard to enact sometimes?

I should have asked Seth when I had the chance…


I have a weird day at work during which I go from meeting to meeting and fry my brain on Teams and Zoom (I hate computer monitors so much right now—when I write now, I write longhand or, if on my laptop, I type with my eyes closed), and feel stupid and sluggish—but those four hours spent sitting in front of the screen qualify as work.

When they’re over, I take the dog for a long walk. I’m stupid for the first 20 minutes, then I start thinking… and at the 45 minute mark, I have a brilliant idea, and also, I see two problems and two actions that I need to take ASAP to cut them off.

So, now, a quandary: that was nominally my lunch hour… but, really, my four hours of meetings (for which I was paid)—largely unproductive. The last 15 minutes of my “lunch hour”? The best work of the day.

The moral of that story: paying people by the hour for brain work is dumb. At the same time, though, there is incredible freedom in knowing that I just owe my employer seven hours a day. When I work for myself, I’m the kind of nasty boss who expects me to perform 24/7. Who needs sleep?

(Me. But when I’m my own boss, I think sleep is for the weak.)


I finished (mostly) a massive project I’ve been working on since June 2020, and it feels really, really good, and now, for the first time since I’ve started my new full-time gig, I’m about to start working only one job—and this is so very exciting (shall I sleep more?)—but also, really, what this means is that I should start/finish another novel—but also, maybe, some downtime is not a bad thing?

True fact: I suck at real downtime.

Probably time to start/finish another novel no one will read.

Or, start to exercise again? Maybe I should start a new martial art, find a  non-writing hobby…

^^^We all know that’s not going to happen.


For the record, I’m trying really had to NOT start anything for at least the next two weeks.

But November, as every writer knows, is a really great month in which to write a book.



Work, kids, sleep, repeat—but also, revel: Stripping life to essentials, again


I am waking up early these days. The new gig is like a new baby—threatening to take up all of my time with its demands. So I wake up before it does, and, wrapped in the pre-dawn darkness and my bath robe, do my morning pages, drink my coffee—very, very slowly—and give my time to my labours of love.

Then, work.

It’s still more of an intellectual, learning exercise—background knowledge, research, thoughts in my head rather than words on paper (or, to be more precise, the screen?). But thinking is physically exhausting—we don’t often appreciate that adequately.

By the time I log off for the day, I’m mentally and physically exhausted. Happy—but exhausted. Intellectually blunted—thinking is hard, decisions, even small ones, impossible.

On the days that I don’t have Ender or the kids coming over for supper, I have a bath as soon as I log off, then eat—force myself to take a walk, thank goodness for the dog—and crawl into bed with BritBox (currently binging Jonathan Creek and really loving how in British TV people are… people-like, both in appearance and character. Not caricatures, not photoshopped, botoxed stereotypes. The villains aren’t all evil and the victims and heroes aren’t flawless. Youth is as complex and painful as adulthood—children aren’t cherubs and the elderly aren’t necessarily wise. And old, wrinkly people fall in love, and nobody thinks it’s weird).

Up early, I crash early. And so, finally, here is a silver lining to the third wave of the pandemic—no FOMO, right? Nothing’s happening, nothing to do. You and I can go for a walk or sit on a patio sipping bear, but, you know, I have a patio of my own and I’m so sick of walking as a social activity—I might as well just go to bed.

I sleep deeply, nine to ten hours a night. I still don’t know if this is a sleep deficit from more than a decade ago when I had three kids under seven—or from 2019, when I just did not sleep—that my body is trying to make-up, or a response to the stress of the pandemic.

You complain of insomnia—I, as soon as I lie down in bed, fall into unconsciousness. It’s blissful. When dreams come, they’re weird as all fuck—so weird and surreal, they neither disturb me nor tempt me to hunt for hidden meaning, omens.

There are no nightmares.

I sleep deeply.


I am not sure how to explain to friends what it is I’m doing for work at the moment. “I write” covers a multitude of sins, so I stick to that. Mostly, right now, I’m learning, and I’m reminded of the seductive power of a mid-life, late-life Master’s or PhD.

Learning a new discipline, a new language—and each discipline, industry, organization has its own language—is intoxicating.

This happens, in one of my classes at the Polytechnique last year:

Student: I can’t wait until I get my diploma and I can stop learning.

Jane: Oh, honey. You’ve just explained why I can’t seem to teach you anything. Can we do anything about that mindset, or should I just give you an F now and explain why you can’t ever ask me for a letter of recommendation?

At the moment, I’m working on teaching myself everything, about a new industry, new organization. New culture, new people.

It’s taking all of my juice.

I sleep deeply.


As Ender comes to the end of what is either grade six or grade five—surely not yet grade seven—I can never remember rightly, and, really, what does it matter—we’re entering year three of what has essentially been the Minecraft and Youtube curriculum. Between Flora’s illness, COVID, the divorce—now my new job—what else could it have been?

I’m researching resources, books, games—Youtube channels—wanting to give him some more scope to explore this summer, and in the fall.

Ender: Why?

Jane: I just… I just want you to be learning more.

Ender: I’m learning all the time. And having fun.

Even seasoned unschoolers need this reminder once in a while.

I kiss him. Hold him close.

I sleep deeply.



Writing practice looks like this


Morning. Coffee. Notebook. My morning pages usually start with a list like this—things, concrete objects—sometimes sounds and smells. Kettle boiling, whistling. Cinnamon on my fingertips. Traffic outside the window, or is that birdsong? And more words follow, eventually. Sometimes, I write about what I really think and feel. But often, I just skate on the surface and only document what I can touch. Pen. Paper. Notebook. Here I am, writing another word, making another sentence.

I am re-reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and am struck, again, by how both for Natalie and for Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way and the reason I write morning pages), writing is not just a vocation, it’s a religion. Well, neither Natalie nor Julia would use that word. They’d say spiritual practice—they do say spiritual practice.

I am wary of the word ‘spiritual.’ Too many encounters with kooky ‘spiritual’ people have drained the word of positivity and power, just as too many encounters with the intolerant and the outright evil have stripped ‘religion’ of all that’s good for me.

But writing is definitely more than my job. It is my vocation, and it is my practice.

(No adjective necessary.)


I have a new WIP on the wall, and I explain to Flora the planning and tracking process. She reacts with teenage contempt.

Flora: Why are you telling me this? I’m not going to be a writer. You’ve made sure of that.

I’m a little stung. Why is that? I reflect. Do I whine, complain too much about the work? I do not mean it—I love it. I love the work. Do I act as if I do not love it?

Flora: Sure. You love it. But it’s SO MUCH work. For so little money, and like, no recognition—so much risk for so little reward.

And I’m stung again, that this most precious child of mine measures the worthiness of what I do by its financial success. If my books sold millions and made millions, maybe she’d want to be writer.

If her author-journalist mother was a famous, a household name, a TikTok meme, maybe she’d want to be a writer.

But all I do is write my insignificant, unfamous stories for audiences of 500, 1000—10,000 when I’m really, really lucky.

Her judgement stings, and looking at the story on my wall, I ask myself, not for the first time, why I bother to do this.

There are so many easier ways to make a living, pay the rent and the visa bill.





One word. Another one. Find yourself on the page—ground myself on the page. Document yesterday—find in it the kernel of a mystery i want to explore. Turn it into story. Find flow and peace—as well as frustration (oh, but it has a purpose) and pain (but it’s to a purpose and so bearable, necessary)—inside the work.


My morning pages often end with the beginning of a draft of what will be a public post—or the articulation of an idea I’ll explore later in a story, a poem. A novel.

Flora: It’s just journalling. Waste of time.

She has a lot of contempt for journalling, thank you, mental health professionals. It was as useful a suggestion for her at the height of her illness as bubble baths as self-care were for me.

Jane: No. It’s like doing your Tang Soo Do forms over and over and over again. It’s practice.

She doesn’t understand.

She doesn’t have to.

But I do wish she’d value it.

A little.



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: 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.



Pandemic Diary: You can take your silver lining and shove it where the sun don’t shine


On Saturday, Sean and I decide to head to Costco, because—fuck, I don’t know. Because, I have a ton of marking to do and I need a break, because he needs to study for a test and doesn’t want to, because we are out of dog food, because the seal on the toilet is broken and one of us needs to go to Home Depot, because we need to pick up a new headset at Memory Express (fuck yes, that’s an essential when you’re two working from home and three learning from home, and everyone socializing in Skype, and why are you such a judgement fuck anyway?), because it’s rainy and dreary and we want to get out of the house, and so, Costco?

Costco is my personal hell. At the very least, purgatory. But the card is mine—well, actually—nevermind, I’m not gonna go into that—and I have to go and Sean needs to get out of the house. So.


In the car, I do the thing. Half-a-dozen texts:

“We’re going to Costco. Do you need anything?”

The orders roll in.

“A large dog bed? If it fits in your car?”

“Parmagianno regianno, it’s $27.”

“Not sure if they have it, but elderflower tonic water.”

“maybe a bag of lemons”

My dad:

“Call Mom and ask her.”

(She’s sleeping after watching people die all night; I don’t.)

I report our neighbours’ requests to Sean. Then,

Jane: Lamest apocalypse ever. I mean. Parmagianno regioanno, lemons, a dog bed, and elderflower tonic water? Look at us all suffer.

Sean: Don’t forget the wax seal for our toilet. We genuinely need that.

We do. Our bathroom smells like the men’s washroom in a London tube station or a Warsaw nightclub.


Jane: There’s a line. Let’s not go.

Sean: It might not be that big, and it’s probably moving pretty fast.

Jane: I’m not standing in line to go to Costco.

We park—the parking lot is half empty, which is a sight I have never, ever seen in my entire life. Go near the doors.

The physical-distance respecting line goes on forever.

The people leaving the store have hardly anything in their carts.

Sean: It doesn’t look that bad.

Jane: No fucking way.

I’m framing it as a fight. It wasn’t. He wasn’t going to make me stand in the line. But. If he had been alone, he probably would have.

What else is there to do?

Study. Mark. Clean.

I text all the people:

“Mission Costco aborted. Line up.”

We do stand in line to get into Home Depot. Because, disgusting toilet.

Sean makes us wear masks.

Ok, not makes. Just. You know. Gently insists that this is a recommendation we should follow.

I take a selfie of us in them, at least in part to irritate him. Because line, face mask, all of this non-normality.

Home Depot. Don’t touch anything you don’t need to. Wax seal. While we’re here—curtain rod and light fixture for my “new” studio space, which I buy resentfully, because it’s an acceptance of the new normal lasting into next semester.

Bag of potting soil for Sean’s mom, because, life goes on.

Dog food.

Not at Home Depot. Another stop. I stay in the car.

Sean: Safeway?

Jane: Sushi?

Home, he fixes the toilet. I mark. Order sushi.

Think about never, ever going to Costco again.

That would not be so bad, that would actually be perfectly, incredibly marvellous.



Sunday, you offer, as a reward for my finished marking, a not-physically distanced walk by the river. It’s a glorious sunny day, and half of Memorial and the lower part of Centre Street Bridge is closed to cars and open to pedestrians to encourage sanity, exercise, and physical distancing. I want to walk under Centre Street Bridge—when else will we get a chance to do that?

“Silverlining,” you say, voice a little bitter.

You’re not ok.

There is, of course, nothing strange about that. Nobody is ok, nobody’s in a good mood—except, maybe, for the occasional kid whose parents have failed to imbue with their own anxiety (Good on you, those parents). But on this glorious sunny Sunday, you really are not ok. You rant and rave and use words like hoax and conspiracy. I hear the frustration. I have no desire to argue or convince, nor the ability to reassure. I’ve had the same thoughts, spoken the same words to you. It’s part of our processing.

But on this Sunday, to be perfectly honest, in this sunny moment, I don’t even want to listen.

I change the subject. You let me. We talk about other things.

This walk is a happy moment. The time we spend sitting in the sun overlooking the water under the arches of the Centre Street bridge—the happiest part of a long, long happy moment.

But the shadow is always present.

My grandparents all lived through six years of war—crisis, stress, fear, death, destruction. I know they had happy moments in the midst of all that too.

But always, the shadow.

And it stayed for years, decades after.


It’s Monday. I am heavy-headed and heavy-bodied. Soon, I will start moving, tend to my tasks. Or have a nap on the balcony—the sun is out today again and it seems to me it should be a laze-about sort of day, I worked so hard on the weekend, except, still, so much to do…

Ok. One or two critical things to do, maybe four. I don’t want to do any of them.

Dog needs a walk, Ender wants to play in puddles, everyone needs to eat, those proofs still scowl at me from the corner of my desk, and the clock is ticking.

This is not a happy moment but it does not have to be an unhappy one.


It’s a moment of not right, not ok, not normal.

I get moving; do all the things in the shadow.

Don’t go to Costco.




Game face on


Uniform. Ready? Ready. Game face on. Go.

I love clothes. Not for me the grey sweat suit. Or the understated beige sweater twin set (I have no idea what a twin set is, tbh, I keep on reading about it in books, but the characters who wear them invariably sound beige and unexceptional, and often wear a string of pearls with their twin set, and oh-my-god, it sounds boring as fuck, I’d rather be naked).  Clothes are my second skin, both an expression of my inner being and part of my crafting my outer mood and persona.

I am probably most myself when I present workshops on creative writing. Or when I go dance. I communicate, with my clothes, my brand and my expertise. My enthusiasm, energy, thirst and passion for life.

When I teach journalism and corporate communications, I tone myself down, a little. (They can’t handle all of me, never could.) Black and grey dresses, nun-like in their lack of exposed cleavage. Just the shoes, piercings, and hair, bit of jewelry, give me away.

If you see me wearing yoga pants and a T-shirt, and I’m not going to a yoga class or the gym, or not helping a friend paint or move house—I’m not chilling or comfortable in my skin. I’m a wreck. The news is as bad as when you come to my house and see a shining kitchen floor.

Like a cat, dog or primate, the glossiness of my fur informs you about my health.

Yesterday, I wore pajamas under my snowsuit as I drove Cinder here and there. This was not an act of freeing “I don’t give a fuck.” It was the result of, between the things that had to be done, not having the energy to step into the shower and out of pajamas into yoga pants.

None of it felt good.

The glossiness of my fur tells you if I’m happy, excited, confident, passionate… healthy.

But. This is true too: “fake it til you make it,” that’s a thing. Putting that work uniform, dance uniform, writer uniform—it helps craft the mood, the persona even if you (I) really don’t want to do the thing you need to do. Actors embody that capacity the most, I think. As do athletes. The corporate suit fills a similar role for lawyers, bankers, accountants, CEOs; the old school white lab coat did it for dentists, doctors.

Don’t wanna, don’t wanna, don’t wanna, can’t do it—fine, here I go. Uniform on. Game face on. Ok. Let’s rumble.

When you (I) absolutely cannot force yourself to put that uniform on? That’s when things are really bad.


At the Teaching Excellence Foundations course on the organizations at which I teach offers its instructors, we spend a great deal of time talking about the teaching persona. I think it’s adorable how the newbies think all you need to succeed is authenticity.

Almost as naive as thinking all you need is love.

Most of the time these days, my authentic self is limp dishrag that doesn’t want to get out of bed.

Fucking move get out of bed. Shower. Uniform. Game face on. Go. Do the things.


When things were at their absolute worst with Flora last spring—just before I took her out of the hospital and to Wales, against medical advice, to honour a promise—I went to get a long overdue haircut. My hairstylist is an artist and a genius (Rose Mossa, 403.283.8281). She performed another of her miracles. She made me look amazing.

One of the first people to see me after the haircut said, “Great hair! You look so good! I was a little worried when I heard what was going on, but things can’t be so bad, hey?”

We’re not friends anymore. She doesn’t know why. And I know it’s unfair. After all, I got the haircut to look good, to help myself feel good. And it worked. My fur looked glossy and slick. Surely, she made a fair assumption.

Except… do you understand…

No. I suppose you don’t. And I don’t have the spare bandwidth to talk about it.

Haircut. Uniform. Game face on.


Text to my aman cara: “When on day 8 of an at-home suicide watch, you go to see the family therapist, and she says ‘what about your self-care?’ and you bludgeon her to death with her clipboard, that’s justifiable homicide, right?”

Her response: “Holy fucking shit!!”

She’s my temperature check. Ok. It’s not just me. That was a ridiculous thing for the fucking therapist to say.

I didn’t kill one of the medical professionals who are trying to help us and Flora, by the way. I just, again, really wanted to. And this happens so often that I’m starting to think—perhaps it’s not incompetence but design. Perhaps she is on purpose making herself the target, the centre of my rage.

I showered on Tuesday. I will probably shower today, maybe. When I am not trying to keep Flora alive, I am at work. When I am not at work, I am holding Ender—who is not ok. Making supper. When there is no critical task that needs to be done, no child that needs me—God I hope Cinder is ok because there’s nothing of me left for him—I sit very still. Body limp, mind empty. Move not, think not. Rest in-between the contractions.

Don’t ask me to do more.

The time will come—and I can tell you this, I know things are stabilizing—I guess there’s an advantage of this being a cycle—because I can see that the time will come when I can think about… art and music and fun and play and shiny things. But right now? Asking a person who is in survival mode what they’re doing for self-care is asking them to do more… when they barely have the capacity to do what needs to be done.

Don’t invent more tasks for me, ok?


Game face on. Uniform.

I schedule all of us—except for Ender, who loves his mop of unruly hair—for haircuts on Monday. Cinder’s been asking for a haircut for weeks. I can barely see through my bangs. We were supposed to take Flora in for a trim in September but what with one doctor’s appointment and another and another…

Appointment for haircut.

Such a normal, ordinary thing to do.

The effort involved in making that telephone call, to make those appointments? I can’t even… What it will cost me to get Flora, Cinder, myself there, and Ender safely stowed? Don’t even.

When you see me after the haircut? Absolutely, say, “Oh-my-god, amazing hair, your hairdresser is a genius!” (Rose Mossa, ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary noble folk, 403.283.8281) But stop there. Don’t tell me things must be getting better. Save pronouncements on my feelings and my situation for—like, me. Flora. Let me tell you how I feel, what I feel—if I feel up to going there. Otherwise, after we finishing adoring my hair (and it will be amazing), let’s talk about the poets of Shiraz, American war crimes, and how we can save independent journalism.

Uniform chosen. Game face on.




Happy birthday (the war’s not over)

January 6


She’s 15 and we’re still at home.


This past November, I was anticipating that December would be hard. Anniversaries always are. In December—which wasn’t great, but which wasn’t so bad, it could have been so much worse, things had been so much worse—I started to look forward to a New Year. A new leaf, a blank slate. I like those milestones: January 1, Mondays, the first page of a new notebook.

I made plans.

I fantasized, very conservatively. But still. I did.

I envisioned a future.

And now, again, life occurs in 15 minute increments.

And existing in most present moments is unbearable.


She laughs with joy as she comes downstairs and sees her birthday door. This is a happy moment.


At the weekly meeting of the Parents of Children Who Haven’t Died Yet But Who Very Well Might—But Don’t Worry Be Happy Because Suffering Is All In Your Head—we often talk about the challenge of appreciating the happy moments, the lulls between shitstorms. On this particular day, those of us in the room are all mothers who came to motherhood biologically. (The group is usually all mothers; a father comes every once in a while. But rarely. Let’s save that reality for another story.) And so, we all relate when I talk about contractions. About how you get through 12, 24 hours of labour by riding through to the head of the contraction, breathing, screaming to endure—and then, in that brief, holy space between pain and pain, resting as fully as you can. Not thinking about the next contraction. Not thinking when will this end. Not thinking, not thinking, not thinking, not wondering when, if, they baby will crown, will it live, will it thrive, will it be an artist, engineer or hobo. Not thinking, not dreaming. Just…. resting.

Body limp, mind empty.

(If you’re in labour for more than 24 hours, woman, get an epidural for fuck’s sake. But I digress.)

(I digress because she’s 15 and we’re at home, and this is a happy moment.)

Body limp, mind empty. Rest. And here comes the contraction again, ride that motherfucker to the top.

When I use that metaphor at the meeting of the Parents of Children Who Haven’t Died Yet But Who Very Well Might (—Bet Your Bottom Dollar the Sun Will Come out Tomorrow or the Day After or the Next Week, Month, Year, Probably, Eventually, Keep on Hoping, Why Are You Despairing? Bet Your Bottom Dollar!), everyone nods and sighs and says, so true, we all learn to rest and live in those spaces between contractions-crises.

Today, as I write the idea out—body limp, mind empty—fuck people, what’s wrong with you?

Body limp, mind empty.

That’s how you get through 12, 24 hours of labour.

But that is no way to live.


Flora wanted to spend her seventh birthday at West Edmonton Mall Waterpark. I found a great package deal on the Fantasyland Hotel and waterpark, but it meant going to Edmonton four or five days after her actual birthday. The seven-year-old decided to delay her entire birthday so that she could celebrate it the way she planned, at the Waterpark. She did not open her presents. She did let us sing happy birthday to her and blow out the candles on her birthday cake—but did not let us cut it. We transported everything to Edmonton; celebrated a few days later.

She was seven years old. IT still blows my mind. Can you imagine, getting your birthday presents, and keeping them, wrapped, untouched, in your room for four days? At seven years old? I’m not sure I could do it at 45…


How do you live in perpetual crisis?

I’ve interviewed people who’ve lived in war zones, refugee camps. I’ve talked with rape survivors and victims of ongoing domestic violence. Most of my extended family has vivid memories of living under martial law, in a police state, in fear of that knock on the door—in the middle of the night—that ends everything.

People live in this, through this. They love through this, they fall in love in this. How?

Humans are amazing survival machines. We habituate to just about anything.

We survive.


On Saturday night, my aman cara comes to hold me, love me, bring supper, because, as I sit on the couch holding Flora, I can’t even summon the energy to call Skip the Dishes. She comes back on Sunday—I’m on a board conference call , then Ender demands a 6 p.m. bedtime (he is so not ok) and so my aman cara comforts Sean and then helps him make 15 rainbows for Flora’s birthday day.

(It’s a tradition in our family—we did it first for Sean, when he was going through a crisis—decorated a door for his 38th birthday with 38 hearts, on each of which we wrote a thing we loved about him. When Ender’s birthday came two weeks later, Flora did his door—it was his fourth birthday, and she cut out four big hearts for him. Her birthday came next—Sean papered the door with hears for her. Now we had a tradition—and a Cinder who was turning 13, and did not want any rainbow hearts on his door, what the fuck? Flora and Sean made 13 bombs. And so it has gone. For her 15th birthday—15 rainbows. Each one drenched in tears and love.)

When Flora was in the hospital, my aman cara, my mother, and a handful of friends fed us, took care of Ender, did everything they could to help us get through. People are good, and people are amazing in a crisis.

So long as it is short.

You know this.

Your toleration for a friend’s heartbreak, divorce trauma, grief for the death of a parent? It has an expiration date.

It’s like that for personal crises; it’s like that for meta-global, political crises too. A tsunami or an earthquake devastates a region? We rally, give, donate, support… go home. A civil war rages for two years, two decades? God, is that still going on? I’ve stopped paying attention.

And in the meantime, two years later, that region far away hit by that earthquake, to which you’re not paying attention anymore? There are still people there who are homeless, who have no reliable water supply, who are still in crisis.

The people in the crisis, they can’t stop paying attention.

But even they become habituated to it. Accept it as their new normal.

How fucked up is that?


She insists on going to school and I spend six hours wondering if my child will come home.

There are precautions in place. I know she arrives at the school. I know she doesn’t miss classes. She checks in with me at lunch. In-between messages, I exist in soul-draining uncertainty.


Crisis. The new normal.

One of my fighting points (I have many) with the family therapist at Flora’s out-patient clinic is that she wants me to simultaneously have hope and to stop resisting what is. Dialectical thinking at its best, but seriously? How am I supposed to accept… No, no, no.


And yet. I know the bitch is right.

Sorry. Not a bitch—healer with a heart of gold. I just need to be angry at someone, anyone. And there she is, with her platitudes and really terrible metaphors and well-intentioned helplessness.

Crisis. Knives, razors, Tylenol and Nyquil, household cleaners under lock and key. I cut pickles for sandwiches with a butter knife as sharp as a spoon.

Cry at the ludicrousness of it all.


She comes home from school. I breathe.


Birthday supper at a Korean restaurant in the evening. My parents are there. She seems happy, almost chatty, and I wonder if my parents buy it, or if they see what Sean and I see—the mask pulled on, the effort required. Earlier in the day, I was a guest panelist at a webinar. And I did the same: Five minutes til show time. Breathe. Game face on. Perform. Laugh. Don’t let anyone see you cry or bleed. Done. Collapse.

She’ll collapse when we get home, as will we all.

But right now, as she eats bulgogi and thanks Grandma for her presents and lets Cinder tease her that she’s, how old? 13?—game face on.

Which is a reminder, I suppose, that awful though this is, it’s not as bad as the first five, six months of 2019, when none of us could put the game face on for anything.

But then, there’s also this consequence—game face on. Go see friends. Go do normal things.

A text: “Saw Flora today! She looks great! So happy that she’s doing better!”

Except when she comes home—she collapses.


She’s 15. She’s home. She’s still at home.


Post-script I was going to embed a video of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (The War Is Over)” below. You know which one I mean. The one that comes with all the warnings. And that will rend your heart. Because as I do my best to keep one child alive, and the spectre of war and hate pushes on me from the outside, I know only one truth: every soldier, every civilian, every victim of war is somebody’s child.

Why does this reality not infuse every decision we make, politically, personally? Somebody’s child.

Our provincial government is cutting 500 nursing jobs. Let me tell you, having spent 12 months in the belly of the system now–there are many thing wrong with it. But it is not overstaffed.

Every fired nurse? A nurse that’s not able to help someone’s child when they need help.

She’s home. The war’s not over. But she’s 15. And she’s still at home.

Suffering, loving, living… home


Pen, notebook, coffee, my comfy chair. This should be a happy moment except that upstairs, a child wants to die.

Yesterday, she sees tear-streaks on my face. “Have you been crying? Why are you upset?” My lips make words. “It’s hard to watch you suffer.” She puts a hand on my arm. “I don’t want to invalidate your feelings,” she says, parroting Dialectical Behaviour Therapy scripts, “but it’s hard to suffer.” Her tone is condescending.

I kiss the top of her head. I can’t say, “I know.” She hates that, always says, “Do you?” or “How can you?” or screams, “You don’t know.”

i don’t know.

Yesterday, we kept her alive.

Today’s task is the same.

I am confused, caught off-guard by this. It’s not new—the depression, the darkness, the suicidal ideation have been part of what she’s struggled with as she’s battled what I still think of as “the real illness.” The symptoms of that have receded, are finally responding to treatment. I had thought the accompanying darkness was situational. Caused by the illness, and why not? Who could endure what Flora has been going through for the last two years and not wish for release, however final?

I misunderstood, again, everything.

Tomorrow, Flora turns 15.

Tomorrow, Flora will turn 15.

Tomorrow, Flora will turn 15.

Please, child, daughter, love, please turn 15 tomorrow. Sixteen the year after. Kiss a girl, a boy. Fall in love. Go to Wales again—test for your second degree black belt. Find, follow your passions. Genetically modify pigs so that they have wings. Do all the things. Live. Please.

Motherhood—parenthood—is this relentless process of finding out you don’t control your children. You can’t protect your children. You can do all things… and you still cannot save them from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

You cannot save them from themselves.

Flora. Turn 15. Live.

You can only love them.


On Friday morning, Sean takes Flora to an emergency appointment with one of her doctors, who is concerned enough that she essentially says, take her to the hospital. If you can’t get her in the car, call an ambulance.

Sean spends the day with her at the hospital. Triage. Resident. Psychiatric nurse. Psychiatrist.

I’m in an all-day instructors’ course. I learn shit until 10:30 a.m., at which point I get the call from Sean that they’re on their way to the hospital. I have no idea what happens after that. I’m nominally in the classroom. I even talk to my chair about my winter schedule. Get my ID card. There’s a tour. Ironically, we visit Student Development & Counselling Services. Talk a lot about mental health. I can’t breathe. I will not leave her in the hospital again, I will not, but oh-my-god, suppose I don’t and she dies?

I text something along those lines to Sean. His answers are clipped. Triage. Resident. Psychiatrict nurse. Psychiatrist. Waiting.

Finally—coming home.


I don’t want to talk shit about our medical system because I am so grateful for universal free healthcare, and I know the system is full of well-intentioned healers who want to help people. Nobody goes into nursing, medicine, psychology, psychiatry because they want to be a bureaucrat, gatekeeper or hateful asshole.

The system just turns them into that…

I don’t want to talk shit about the youth mental health ward where Flora spent most of last spring either.

But I will.

Yes, she got help. Assessment, diagnosis, the beginning of treatment.

She was also traumatized and emotionally abused.

We might as well have put her in jail.



Flora’s not happy at home. When she talks to the psychologist, doctors, psychiatrists, she tells them she hates her life at home. Doesn’t get along with her brothers. I don’t know what she says about her parents—she saves that for when I leave the room. The little I do hear is hard enough to take. I don’t know what I could have done to have given this child a more stress-free, trauma-free, happy childhood.

I don’t know what I could, should do differently now.

Not cry in front of her now, maybe, but fuck me, I have no reserves left and the tears just come when they want to. I need to save my energy for the battles, conversations, emotional labours that matter.



Friday night, I sleep in Flora’s top bunk so that she’s not alone in the night. Saturday night, Sean does Friday evening, he watches movies with her while I feed us, put Ender to bed Check on Cinder. The boys are not doing well. Ender is clingy, behaviourally regressive. Cinder, fully my son, is disassociating, directing impossible to articulate fear and anger at schoolwork—“stupid and not worth doing”—and inanimate objects, there are new holes in walls.

Saturday morning, we sell Ender to a friend and neighbour, and go look at puppies. I need another living, needy, vulnerable thing in the house like I need… I can’t even find the appropriate metaphor. But when we ask Flora what she needs, what might help, a dog into whose fur she could bury her face is all that she can express.

Our dog is a very selfish emotional support animal. Also, she thinks she’s Ender’s. Also, I will grasp at any straw.

We don’t come home with a puppy. Flora has moments of happiness during the search, I think, but also much longer moments of despair. When we get home, Sean takes Cinder to a movie. I sit on the couch with Flora. Hold her for hours.


In the hospital, staff are not allowed to touch the kids—unless they’re restraining them, that’s ok.* The kids aren’t allowed to touch each other either. The kids also have to spend chunks of each day in “quiet time” in their rooms, doors closed. That’s supposed to be part of their therapy. It’s also the go-to punishment. Isolation. Staff can’t handle you? You’re not behaving?

You’re locked, alone, in your room.

The first week Flora’s at the hospital last spring, the kids start a riot to protest what they see as an unjust punishment of one of them. They’re all forced to spend the rest of the day in their rooms.

In isolation.

I am not a nurse, doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist.

But I am a child, mother, wife, friend, lover, boss, teacher, neighbour, colleague. Human.

And I can tell you without any equivocation that the key to good mental health is love and connection.

Not isolation.



The psychiatrist from the hospital ER calls Friday night, Saturday night. Promises to call again Sunday. Talks to Flora. Sean.

He calls on his free time, after his shift is over.

The people who work in the system? Most of them, healers with hearts of gold.

He’s talked with Flora’s outpatient medical team. Is worried that he made the wrong call not insisting on admission.

I know he didn’t.

I don’t know if we can keep her safe.

I don’t know what else we need to hide, put away. I don’t know the right things to say.

I don’t know if we can keep her safe.

But we can keep her loved.


Post-script: Sean talks to Flora for hours. Short conversations, interspersed with hugs, silence, life. Trying to make all of us accept that the hospital is not the worst option. It’s the second worst option, and the worst option is unthinkable, unacceptable. If you can’t keep yourself safe, if we can’t keep you safe—will you tell us? Will you choose to go?

She promises.

But she’s only a child. What a burden to bear.

Flora, child, love, most beloved.

You will turn 15 tomorrow.

Turn 15 tomorrow.

* * *

We are still home.

She danced, who is she?

Morning phone call, panic, shitty morning. I don’t give you details, because her story is private, even though it is also part of my story. Shitty morning, shitty afternoon. She seems fine then, functional and stable. Me, I play chauffeur, deliver Flora and Ender to their happy places, then cancel lunch with friend-could-be-lover, will not find out now. Try to move out of the past moment that was genuinely shitty—that morning—into the actual present moment—this afternoon—that’s really not so bad, except, emotional hangover, exhaustion, spiralling “I can’t go on like this” thoughts.

What happens? Hard to say. Sleep. Fake meditation. (It’s like meditation, but I listen to an audiobook of a story that I know really well while doing it. Shut up, purist. Anything that works to get me out of despair, I do.) Food. A Philippa Gregory novel. Handholding via text from a friend. I can’t say I let go of the pain, more like I let it burn out. I need to let it burn out so that when it comes again tomorrow, it will be fresh. This makes no sense, except that it does: when the next shit episode in this ongoing shit crisis happens, I need to react to it, and to it alone. Not to the last 12 months of it.

This is not just hard, it’s impossible. Still. One tries. Burn away, pain.

Shitty morning, hangover afternoon. Evening. I’m supposed to dance. How do we do this, I ask Sean. I mean, really? How do we dance, laugh, live a normal life when our child suffers like this?

He had no real answers. He doesn’t want to dance either. He forgets to laugh even more than I do, I think, for all that his detachment from the horrors of each shit moment seems better… in the moment.

But. We decide to dance

Child safe, stowed, watched, loved.

This is a happy moment. Dance.

It works.

Oh-my-fucking-god, it is ever so hard. Because the memory of the past shitty moment—a year’s worth of them—presses. Hard. The anticipation of the next shitty moment taunts. They are inevitable. They will come.

In this space between them, I dance.

* * *

In my Instagram and Facebook feeds, you will see me dancing. You will not see the shitty moments. The camera curates them out. Bear that in mind when you see me in life—bear that in mind when the peak moment compilation of your friends’ carefully curated online personae make you sigh over the relentless ordinariness of your life.

I am not convinced that we are not our thoughts. I’m pretty sure we are little else. But this I do know for sure: we are not our Facebook posts and Instagram stories. And life is not a Twitter feed.

* * *

This is a happy moment. Dance.

That was a shitty moment, series of moments, shitty minutes becomes shitty hours, days, weeks, months. Don’t deny it. Let the pain burn.



Post-script: Two days later, we are back in the hospital with Flora; I can’t breathe and I don’t know who the woman who danced on New Year’s Eve was.

Deep Texting Conversation with My Teenager

You don’t hear a lot about Cinder these days, I realize, so I thought I’d catch you up with what’s going on in his world via our text exchanges.

Jane: This is your boarding pass. Have a good trip.

Two weeks later:

Cinder: Landed.

Jane: Here.

Cinder: K.

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park


Next day:

Cinder: My course schedule is all fucked up.

Jane: You’ll have to see your counsellor, I guess.

Cinder: I guess.

Next day:

Jane: Supper’s ready.

Later that night:

Jane: Where are you?

Cinder: Home soon.

Next day:

Jane: Food. Caesar dressing or oil and vinegar?

Cinder: Caesar.

A few days later:

Cinder: Math 30-1 has a special textbook that’s $20.

Jane: Ok.

A few days later:

Cinder: Can I drop English 30 and take it online?

Jane: K.

Later that day:

Jane: Supper.

Next day:

Jane: Food.

Next day:

Jane: Food.

A few days later:

Jane: This is your Alberta Health Care number.

Cinder: Why are you sending this to me?

Jane: You’ll get a phone call. You’ll need it.

A few days later:

Cinder: Can you get toilet paper on the way home.

Jane: There is a shitload of toilet paper in the furnace room.

Cinder: Not a good place for toilet paper.

Jane: Alternative storage suggestions welcome.

Next day:

Cinder: Where are the bandaids?

Jane: What happened?

Cinder: Nothing. Where are the bandaids?

Jane: Bathroom, top cabinet.

Cinder: No.

Jane: Then we’re out.

Cinder: Can you buy bandaids.

Jane: Do I need to hurry home?

Jane: Are you bleeding to death? Is Flora? Is Ender? Is there a dead body in the house?

Cinder: Buy bandaids.

Cinder: And cookies.

A few days later:

Jane: Are you dead?

Cinder: No.

Jane: Coming home?

Cinder: Eventually.

Jane: Can I have an ETA? I’m stuck in the stairwell under Flora’s desk and I need help to move it.

Jane: Cinder? Hello? I’m really stuck!


Jane: Supper.

Next day:

Jane: Food.

Next day:

Cinder: There’s no food in the house.

Jane: Basement. Ramen, Annie’s. Cans of beans. Knock yourself out. There might still be a frozen pizza in the fridge.

Cinder: K.


Next day:

Jane: Mashed potatoes or garlic bread?

Cinder: Both?

A few days later:

Cinder: What’s my CBE password?

Jane: How the fuck should I know?

Cinder: Didn’t you write it down somewhere for when I forgot?

Jane: No. Reset it.

Cinder: What’s my CBE email?

Jane: Seriously?

Next day:

Jane: Supper.

Next day:

Cinder: Where are you?

Jane: Out. Why?

Cinder: There’s no food.

Jane: Pizza.

Cinder: There’s no fruit or salad things in the house.

Jane: Who are you?

Cinder and Flora on the one unsubmerged rock on our Common.

Next day:

Jane: Supper.

Next day:

Cinder: Can I have $20?

Jane: Cash?

Cinder: Yes.

Jane: Today?

Cinder: Yes.

Jane: Only if all the change in the change jar in front of the Buddha adds up to $20.

Cinder: Are we broke?

Jane: Experiencing cash flow difficulties.

A few days later:

Cinder: Can you proof my resume?

Next day:

Jane: Food.

Cinder: Not home.

Jane: Where are you?

Cinder: Out.

Jane: K. I’m gonna eat your steak.

Cinder: Coming home.

God, I love this 6 foot 3 baby of mine



Manufactured Memories, for Suzie

I don’t want a pen pal, she doesn’t want a relationship, and we live 300 km apart, so really, we’re doomed, but we decide to play a game anyway, like Truth or Dare, without the dare part.

I set out the rules:

I ask a question. You answer it. Tell the truth, or lie—it doesn’t matter. How can I tell if you lied?

And then, you ask me. Only rule is, you can’t ask me the same question I ask you.

She agrees. But stipulates we shouldn’t lie. I shrug, although she can’t see it. What is truth, anyway?

She asks me to go first.

I ask, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

And she tells me. It’s not so bad. But it’s honest and raw.

She asks, “Why do you hate Christmas?”

I give her the unvarnished truth; I suspect she wishes she hadn’t asked.

She asks, “Favourite childhood memory.”

I pause.

Think hard.

I’ve had, in many ways, an idyllic childhood. It’s only when I scratch and dig deep that I realize that much of it must have been hard. Displacement, poverty.

But I never felt, experienced the poverty. We were never hungry.

We always felt safe.

We always felt loved.

My parents really did create a cocoon around us. I make a mental note to thank them.

I search for a memory that makes a discrete story. I decide to go with a very early one.

It goes like this…

The taste of cherries

I’m on summer vacation in Poland from Libya, and it’s cherry season. We’ve spent the morning on my paternal grandparents “działka,’ essentially an urban community garden. Except in post war, Communist Poland, the działka provides, god, virtually all of the fresh produce for a city family, especially in the summer. If you didn’t have one, you made friends with someone who did.

I’m pretty little. Maybe six? I must be six, no more than seven, because my grandmother was dead by the time I was eight. And we come home from the działka, and we have so many cherries, and my grandmother and my great-grandmother, they are going to make cherry jam and preserves. But my brother and I, we just want to each the cherries. And they’re so ripe and juicy, every time we grab one, we stain our hands and faces and clothes.

So my grandmother, who is stern and particular, strips us down to nothing, and puts us in the bathtub… with a giant bowl of cherries.

And we eat them and eat them and eat them… our faces, hands, bellies are red from the juices. The tub is stained red. But oh-my-god, the taste of those cherries is still there on my tongue. I have never eaten something so delicious, before or since.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my grandmother—I was so little when we left, and she died soon after. Most of the stories I’ve heard about her—she was not a warm or loving or happy person. I don’t have any memories of her hugging me or kissing me or any gifts from her or anything.

Except this one. But this one is so delicious…

I treasure it.

Gorge myself on cherries every season. Often, they are sweet—they are never as sweet as in that memory.

I have a second favourite childhood memory. This one, I know is largely manufactured.

The donkeys

In Libya, we lived in a city, called El Marj. Most of the Eastern European foreign workers weren’t given free reign of the city—certainly the women and children weren’t. Most of us were housed in workers’ camps. Our camp was called the American camp, because it had originally been built for the Americans, I think. I can’t remember how many houses on it—it seemed huge to me back them. It was, after all, our entire world. There was one main road through it—barbed wire fence on three sides, and a stone wall on the fourth, separating us from one of the El Marj neighbourhoods.

Was there a gate? I don’t remember. Perhaps.

We kids were free to roam the entire grounds of the camp—we were discouraged from hanging out near the entrances or near the crack in the stone wall—that’s another story, we used to meet there for parlays with the Arab kids but neither our parents nor their parents liked for us to do that.

One day, in one of the corners of the camp, we found a mother donkey and her baby.

We=the assortment of camp kids. At any given time, there were six to twelve of us; I don’t remember who the other kids were at the time. Nor at any given time: we were interchangeable to each other, playmates of the moment. Anyone of us could be gone tomorrow. Polish kids, Bulgarian kids, a token Romanian—I remember we didn’t like him, he was the eldest, a bully, mean, until we put him in an old rusted barrel (they were all over the place) and rolled him all over the camp, beating the barrel with sticks.

(Um, Mom and Dad, if you’re reading—you didn’t read that part. IT NEVER HAPPENED.)

We had no idea how the donkeys got into the camp—maybe the mother could have jumped the fence, but her baby? Maybe the gate was open—or maybe there was no gate.

She was in pretty rough shape, lots of scars and wounds. The Libyans were pretty hard on their animals.

We cleaned her up, and took the ticks out of her eyes and where we could find them on her and the baby’s body (there were a lot of ticks, swollen with blood). And we got them food and water.

I can’t remember what we fed them. Most of our mothers grew vegetables and flowers while we had water, so we probably raided the gardens. Sometimes, we didn’t have water and had to drive hundreds of kilometres to get drinking water. Then, the gardens withered.

In my memory, we kept the donkeys hidden from the adults for weeks. But I expect it was only a few days. The big kids, we rode the mom. And we put the two little guys (my brother and the another little boy) on the baby. I remember this, distinctly.

When I say rode, I think I mean we got on the donkey’s backs and sat there and maybe the donkey walked around a little…

Memory is a funny thing. I don’t remember how this story ends and I refuse to ask. One day, the donkeys weren’t there. Did their owners come back? Did they escape? Did someone see them, and “steal” them? Did someone come to the adults, tell me, give us our damn donkeys back? Did our parents let them go, chase them out? I don’t know.

(Dad, if you know—don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.)

In my story, we keep them and take care of them forever, and everyone lives happily ever after.

She likes the story. A lot.

But now she wants her next question.

I ponder for a bit.

Then ask, “What’s the most creative lie you’ve ever told, and why?”

I hope it’s going to be a good story.



Two in high school, one at home equals… I don’t know, I’m really bad at math

Last week, I started drafting a post celebrating and documenting Calgary’s Pride 2019 and telling you why it is we march—and why if you don’t get that it’s political, that all the joy and dancing and laughter and singing around Pride is so political, then you shouldn’t come to our glitter party—but I couldn’t make it funny or even particularly convincing. So I shelved it.

The week before that, I wrote three very long essays about why I hate the family therapist that’s part of Flora’s medical team. Short-hand: She doesn’t understand. Me, Flora, our family. I don’t like her. I don’t respect her. I don’t want to listen to her, and I can’t hear her even when she gives me something of value, because I really need to be able to be angry at someone, hate someone, blame someone, and she’s the ideal candidate for the task. But I couldn’t make it empathetic or compassionate. It just sounded mean, and I didn’t want to come across as mean. Just… pissed and misunderstood.

We live here, how lucky is that?

Then, some good things happened, but I didn’t even try to write about those, because I didn’t want to jinx them. I jinxed some of them anyway. Alas.

And since Tuesday I’ve been trying to compose a “Back to School” post. My first-ever, because this is Cinder’s first “Back to School” year—my boy’s in grade 12, y’all. And it’s Flora’s first-ever “to school” year—she did it, we did it, she made it to regular school on day 1 just as she decided way back before BAM! Surprise! Curveball!

Flora’s first day of school; yes, that is her unicorn costume

And, Ender’s first year at home alone. I mean, with me, but you know what I mean. I don’t count, because I’m an adult. His first year at home alone without his siblings. He missed Cinder desperately when Cinder went to school last fall—I found this odd, because it seemed to me Cinder spent most of his time in his room anyway, playing computer games and punching holes in walls—but apparently just having him in the house was… nice.

I’m trying not to overplan and overpanic. He’ll be fine. He’s got buddies in the hood, and a homeschooled buddy just two doors over.

Cinder planning his semester (who is this kid??)

He’ll be fine. Me? Here’s the funny thing that most people don’t get. When Cinder went to school, I did not suddenly magically have more free, non-kid time. Because there were still two kids at home (and one of them was about to need 24/7 care but let’s not go there again, not now, not yet). And now, with both Flora and Cinder in high school—I do not magically have more kid-free time. Because, there is still… Ender. And an Ender who no longer has two older siblings to hang out with during the day, to distract, to bug, to annoy, to fight with.

And then there were three…

We survive our first week solo relatively well. Tuesday and Friday are a half-day, and on Wednesday, we have lots of errands, and Thursday is a beautiful day, so we spend a lot of time outside, and then, the weekend, and a sleepover with his cousins and all his friends on the Common.

And today is Monday, our first week of five full days of no Flora and no Cinder at home.

We’re gonna be ok.

I think.

Ender’s “not back to school” lunch

Our coping strategies are very similar. I decide to reorganize the homeschooling supplies and purge the stuff that we are definitely never ever going to use again. Ender reorganizes his Lego shelf—to make room for the new Lego sets he’s planning to receive for his birthday, my eternal optimist.

We read a book together, then I read alone.

I do laundry, because it’s Monday and it’s raining, and that’s what you do on rainy Mondays when you have a dryer and a large drying rack.

He sorts his Lego, then starts uploading Minecraft mods.

I scour the house for chocolate. For fuck’s sake, surely, there’s an untapped stash of chocolate somewhere?

(There isn’t. I eat a handful of chocolate chips instead.)

There aren’t very many chocolate chips left in the house, because Cinder was doing midnight baking…

He asks for three lunches.

I answer an email, then text, from a new homeschooler who wants some advice on learning plans and unschooling. I’m not sure if what I tell her will be helpful. Because in the end, my “proof of concept” is unique to me and my family.

I think a lot about my work. Write some new words. Delete a few. Write a bit more.

I ask him if he wants to go swimming. Or something?

He shrugs. “Maybe go for ice cream? Later? I’m busy now.”

I go back to my computer. Tickle the keys.


Invite the nervous new homeschooler over for coffee.

Write while I wait.

Happy rainy Monday.

The path less travelled



Me and my “baby,” at the Passport Office

Finding Water, grateful for Julia Cameron, kinda whiny anyway

I’m re-reading Julia Cameron’s Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance, one of her “sequels,” if I can be permitted to call them that, to her revolutionary creative recovery program, The Artist’s Way. I have a cynical suspicion that both Finding Water (2006) and its predecessor Walking in the World (2003)—as well as Cameron’s myriad The Artist’s Way spin-offs, including The Prosperous Heart (2012), The Artist’s Way for Parents (2014), It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again (2016)—were written more at the behest of her publisher than her muse. “Julia!” I imagine the publisher saying. “We need The Artist’s Way 2!” “But I said all I have to say on this in the last book!” Julia protests. “Julia! The people want—need—more! Also, money!” And she sighs, and she looks at her 12-week structure, and she thinks, sure, I can come up with another variant of this, and she writes. And writes some more…

What you need to know: Neither Finding Water nor Walking in the World are nearly as good or life-changing as The Artist’s Way. Because she did give it all away in that first one: the “sequels” are just refinements. Not as good, not as profound. And yet, I re-read both every couple of years as part of my The Artist’s Way refresher. And when I do, I always find something “new,” something I need to hear, learn, affirm at that particular joint in my artistic journey, personal life.

And on this week’s trip with Julia Cameron—the woman who, six, seven years ago now, gave me permission to think of myself as an artist, and what a frightening thought that was—I find Julia’s mid-life insecurities reassuring. I love reading about her sudden foray into music and piano lessons at age 45. Her attempt to stage musicals in New York City in her fifties. I’m not clear if they’re successful or not. I rather think they’re not, or she’d give me the happy ending now, wouldn’t she? Or is she holding it back so that I value the process regardless of what happened to the final product?

When I teach writing (or marketing, for that matter), I draw on a lot of Julia’s ideas, and I’ve read and re-read her so many times now that you’d think nothing would be new… But today, this, if not new, is necessary, and it lifts my heart. Julia says:

One of the greatest disservices we can do to ourselves as artists is to make our work too special and too different from everybody else’s work. To the degree to which we can normalize our day, we have a chance to be both productive and happy. Let us say, as is often the case, we are resistant to getting down to work. We have a choice. We can buy into our resistance—Writer’s block! Painter’s block!—or we can simply say, “I don’t feel like working today, and I’ll bet an awful lot of other people are in the same boat.”

I don’t feel like working today.

I don’t feel like dealing with my shitty first drafts or my marketing analysis or my synopsis or anything, and OMFG, the taxes, I don’t want to do that either. My process for today, I decide, is going to be reading Julia. Because, today, I need to read about how on some days (months) she doesn’t feel like working (more than 20 books later), I love reading about her shitty first drafts, and agent’s rejections of her novels. This is Julia-fucking-Cameron, after all, author of The Artist’s Way, the former Mrs. Martin Scorsese, if anyone should have people beating a path to her door for a book, any book, surely it should be her—how many copies of The Artist’s Way has she sold? (Four million, at 2016, and she still can’t place every novel.)

I find this reassuring. Not because Julia’s suffered and struggled—if I could take that away from her, from anyone, I would. It’s just… reaffirming. Nobody’s entitled to success, fame, an easy ride, an easy second or seventeenth contract. We do the work… because we must do the work.

I’m corrupting young minds part-time these days, teaching journalism courses at a post-secondary institution to “aspiring” writers, artists, photographers, journalists. I’m giving them all I’ve got a la Annie Dillard, although sometimes, I worry I’m teaching skills as obsolete and unvalued as typewriter repair. I hope the core of what I’m giving them is still valid. They want to know how I built a freelance career, and most of what I did, had to do, could do, doesn’t precisely apply to them. But this does—I sent out 97 pitches before I sold my first story.

…spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Their reaction to this story—most are horrified—tells me what their odds of succeeding are in whatever career or artistic path they choose.

Perseverance. How hard are you willing to work for this thing you love?

My industry has always been an industry of attrition. We the survivors, the “success” stories? In some ways, we’re the idiots who persevere well past the point of reason.

One of my favourite things about re-reading The Artist’s Way and Finding Water etc. are the encounters with the quotes Julia (I feel we’re on a first-name basis now, it’s been so many years) sprinkles in the margins. It’s here that I first “heard” George Nathan say that “Art is the sex of the imagination,” and Irving Layton assert that “If poetry is like an orgasm, an academic can be likened to someone who studies the passion stains on the bedsheets.”

Yesterday, I read this:

It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.

John Cage

Where I am right now is not awesome. Irritating doesn’t begin to describe it. The family therapist, who is part of Flora’s ever-growing medical team, and whose job, I think, is to medicate me without drugs—although, really, I keep on waiting for her to give me a marijuana prescription, it’s the most useful thing she could do, except, of course, she doesn’t need to, I can just go to the Co-op and get it—well, except that weed isn’t really my thing, but, OMFG, every time I think about the family therapist, I want to get stoned, where was I? The family therapist tells me not to think of this time as the new normal. She says this is still the crisis, a stage, things will get better. Also, things have been much—much—worse. She counsels… hope, and focusing on the future.

I wish I could fire her. I’m not sure if she’s incompetent or if I’m just being obtuse. But I can’t live on hope. I can’t endure today simply by thinking that tomorrow—next month—next year—2024—will be easier, better, more functional.

Thich Nhat Hahn—my favourite monk—and the Jewish Buddhists I read (seriously, so many of the modern American Buddhist teachers come from the Jewish tradition—why is that? I should find out) want me to be able to enjoy the sun on my skin, the beauty of a flower—Flora’s excited smile as she puts together her Pastel Goth wardrobe for high school. And I do. This, right now, is a happy moment. Unfortunately, odds are pretty good it will be followed by an hour in hell, and that hell is not all in my head, fuck you, Bodhisattva Junior.


When the hours in hell outnumber the happy moments by a substantial factor, I dream of running away, and I apply for a job in Dubai, an arts residency in the mountains.

You: Yeah, what happened with that?

Jane: Didn’t get the job in Dubai. Got the arts residency.

I am very excited about the residency. But I’m also aware that the 12 days in the fall that I will spend away from the demands of my life, while giving me time for focused work and, also, uninterrupted sleep, will not change anything, in the present, in the long term. In fact, they can damage the work I need to do in the present. “I can suffer now, I can sacrifice now, because I get those 12 days soon!”

This is the way most people think about their shitty jobs and vacations.

This is not the way I want to live my life.

Neither does Julia. In the week of Finding Water I’m reading now, her doctor notes that she’s tired and recommends renting a cabin in the country for the summer, so she can get away from it all and write.

I didn’t want to rent a cabin in the country; I wanted to write right where I was, smack in the middle of New York City. I wanted to write about the excitement of the flower district, the garment district, the antique district. I wanted to write about exactly where I was planted, in the rich soil of a bustling metropolis. I wanted to write, period.

I had a lust to simply lay some track, to put some words to my experience, to try to achieve an optimistic balance by putting things onto the page.

I must be serene in the place where I am planted.

Me too, Julia, me too. (No hashtag.)

So, I’m trying to figure it out. To make the present inhabitable, fulfilling. So many things completely beyond my control and unpredictable. What can I change, affect? What anchors, routines, predictability can I create? Where can I thrive?

I’ve kept writing in the mornings, my Morning Pages as Julia taught me in The Artist’s Way all those years ago. (Six years now? Seven?) Trying to jump from the pages to creative, constructive work when the mornings are calm. But life does not always allow this, and I cannot pressure myself. “I must set my own gentle pace,” Cameron writes in Finding Water. Something else, someone else is setting my pace. I must accept it and work with it. Not hope that tomorrow, maybe, next month, maybe, for fuck’s sake, next year, surely, will be better.

What can I do today?

Sometimes, only the basics. Morning pages, Flora’s current morning routine, Ender’s breakfast, potato chips and pickles for lunch. A meditation session that turns into a nap, because, interrupted sleep. Apologies to the dog for not taking her out for a walk—ok, fine, five minutes, to the end of the alley and back, hey, we did it!

Sometimes, a 12-hour marathon. I try to take Saturdays away, mini-arts residencies, maxi-Artist’s Dates. Sometimes, work, work, work, work, and I am so happy—fucking family therapist and her bubble baths as self-care suggestions—just because she hates her job, can she not imagine that what I want, more than anything, is more time for mine?

Sometimes, silence.

Today, a few hours with Julia.

Julia says,

When joy is elusive, we must actively seek it out. We must put ourselves with people and things that bring us delight. Sometimes, when we are at our most depressed, it can be difficult to even recall the joys in life. It is for this reason , that one more time we must take pen in hand. Turning to the page, number from one to fifty. Now list fifty things which you love.

Do it.



PS If you’re in yeg or yyc or thereabouts, Julia Cameron is coming to Edmonton on October 5! Of course I’m going.


PS2 Here’s a recent New Yorker article on Julia Cameron’s utility to 20-somethings in an age of self-promotion:

PS3 And here’s a recent New York Times article on Cameron, kinda an overview/homage:

If any of my students are reading this, and you’ve clicked on the above article and read it, please note: if you ever write a sentence like this:

“On a recent snowy afternoon, Ms. Cameron, who has enormous blue eyes and a nimbus of blonde hair, admitted to the jitters before this interview.”

I will fail your ass. Today’s lesson. WTF, NYT?

Halfway to 90: on flying, smashing the patriarchy, and other dreams

I turn 45 this  month—this week—this day, hey, it’s today!—and I suppose now, when you call me middle-aged, I can’t say fuck off, because what else is this? My native language has a much better term for this time of life—it translates as “in the strength of life,” and it’s a term that’s applied, incidentally, exclusively to men. Regency English has a similar and similarly gendered term—Jane Austen’s men in their 40s and 50s are “in the prime of life and still as handsome as ever.” The women, of course, enter the “danger years” before their mid-twenties. Thank you, patriarchy.

I mean, actually, fuck you, patriarchy.

I don’t mind getting older. I won’t mind being old. Let me tell you, I plan to be the most bad-ass granny that there ever has been.

But I’m experiencing some reluctance–ok, massive refusal–to take on that middle-aged label.

Flora: Now you know how I feel.

Jane: This has nothing to do with being a middle child.

Flora: The point is the middle sucks.

It totally doesn’t. The middle is fucking fantastic, or should be. I’m finally not too young for the titles and keynotes and responsibilities. No one is saying with doubt in their old, gravelly voices, “Well, you seem qualified… but do you think you can really hand it?” and forcing me to find a way of saying, “Grandad, just cause you in the prime of your life are intimidated by the task doesn’t mean I won’t breeze through it, ok?” in a way that is both submissive and just sufficiently confident—not too arrogant, not too threatening, look at me, I’m Goldilock’s “just right” bowl of porridge, really.

Right now—I am Goldilock’s “just right” bowl of porridge. In another decade—15 years max—I’ll be qualified but past it, out of touch—too old, and also, too expensive. So, I’ve got to milk this next decade, this middle for everything I can get out of it. In the middle, my hard-done-by middle child, you have both clout and (comparative) youth. Experience and energy. The ability to connect with the generation that preceded you—because they raised you—and the generations that follow—because you birthed them.

Yes. This is a good place to be, except for, patriarchy.

Him: Again with the male bashing.

Jane: No. Never.

I have sons, a husband, brother, father, colleagues, friends, the occasional lover with a penis. I will not shit on men—neither all men nor most men. When Flora, in her nascent, emergent feminism, says, “Men suck,” I redirect her. Men are human, good and bad, as are women. The patriarchy, though? The patriarchy sucks ass, and I will shit on it without reservations. It hurts everyone, male, female, non-binary, young, old.

Its oppressions, for women, become more evident with age. Think you don’t need feminism, my pretty Millennial, because your law school class was more than 50 per cent women? Come talk to me when you’re trying to make partner, and tell me it’s an even playing field. Get a little older, a little more experienced—work a little harder. No, a lot harder. Have a baby or two. Then come tell me how easy it was to smash that glass ceiling, tell me how it feels to realize, in your prime, your male colleagues are out-earning you while underperforming. Tell me then how you’re navigating the reality of working in a system that still doesn’t understand the consequences of having employees that have and use their uteruses for something other than monthly PMS cramps.

Her: You know, you’ve been immensely successful. Show me one glass ceiling you haven’t smashed.

Jane: I broke all the rules. And I’ve been privileged. And supported by an extended family. And to be arrogantly frank—I’m exceptional. And it’s still been hard. And what I’ve done—it’s still, in 2019, possible only for the exceptional, the privileged, and the supported. I want it all to be better, and easier for my daughter.

Flora: But aren’t I exceptional too?

She is. Fuck, yeah, she is. Flora and I are 30 years apart. That’s a generation gap and a half, and not just because she’s a digital native and I’m a Luddite who not-so-secretly rejoices every time I kill my cellphone with melted chocolate.

(I’ve replaced it. I still think… perhaps I shouldn’t have.)

But she’s going to have to deal with all shit I’ve had to deal with. All of it. My path was easier than my mother’s–hers, easier than her mother’s, thank you, first-wave and second-wave feminism. Flora’s? I don’t think the needle has moved forward at all in the thirty years that separate us on gender equity—in some ways, it’s moved back. Yes, she can be a geneticist, neurosurgeon, or overlord of the universe (her current life plans). And she will be. Will it be as easy for her as it would be if she had a penis? Fuck, no, and don’t you dare whine, you over-privileged white male, that you’re not getting all the seats and all the prizes right now. You’re still getting more, and you’ve been getting more for centuries, in some cultures, millennia—and while you’ve been getting shafted in other ways (cry, brother, cry), it’s really time to own the immense economic and political privilege you’ve enjoyed. Her brothers will have an easier time in almost any career they choose—even in the female-dominated careers like nursing and teaching, they will have it easier because they are “special” (but in a good way).

(When you’re the only woman in a boardroom, loves, you’re not special—you’re either invisible or you’re that steel-balled cunt.)

(I’ve always chosen to be the steel-balled cunt. But wouldn’t it have been great… if I could have just done my job.)

And they will certainly have an easier time balancing the demands of career and family.

But I (surprise!) digress. I’m 45 today, halfway to ninety, officially middle-aged and then some—because my plan is to check out at 78, do not make plans for my 80th birthday, kiddies, let’s have a big bash at the 78 mark, cause I’m not sticking around much past then—45 and I suppose no longer a young woman to anyone… except when I’m visiting a nursing home or crashing Senior’s Day at the Grand Opening of a new Safeway on Vancouver Island.

When Flora and I are in Wales, a tour guide in Cardiff Castle takes us for sisters. He’s 80, half-blind and demonstrably deaf. Flora’s appalled. I can’t be flattered. Did I mention, he’s half-blind.

Flora: You’re kind of pretty, but you do not look that young. Like, ever.

Teenagers keep that “in the prime of life” ego in check better than anything. Perversely, I invite more punishment.

Jane: How old do you think I look?

Flora: 43? Maybe 42. In a good light, when you’ve slept well.

From the mouths of babes.

I am 45 today and I’m both vainer and more confident than I’ve ever been in my thirties, twenties, teens.

I don’t deny or hide the laugh lines, crow’s feet, the sharp crease in my forehead, most of the grey hair (most… I like my blonde fringe, and when there is more grey, especially if it goes white, I’ll sprinkle with with all the colours of the rainbow). I don’t wax or bleach my little moustache. I kinda like it (it makes kissing better, I’m pretty sure).

So I don’t deny or hide those signs of age, and I again have the body of an athlete, bar the softness in the post-partum belly and breasts, but I’ve made peace with that half a decade ago.

I don’t hide my age.

But, I am vain, and I do want all those aging part to still be… you know. Sexy. Attractive. Sizzling hot. Because I am…

Him: Middle –aged?

Jane: Fuck off.

Her: In your prime?

Jane: Precisely.

In my prime, professionally, creatively, sexually.

Fuck you, patriarchy.

Flora: Can you please not write about sex? Your children read your blog and it’s embarassing.

Jane: You don’t have to read it.

Forty-five. Middle-aged. Question: did the term “middle-aged” always sound so… frumpy, milquetoast? Or did we make it so, post 1950s and 1960s, when we as a culture started to worship youth?

Her: I think you’re losing your train of thought and the thrust of this essay.

Jane: Perhaps. I hear memory goes as you age.

The past six months have been the hardest six months of my life. I feel, much of the time, like a limp dishrag. Overwhelmed, overextended, exhausted—ill-equipped and inadequate, to boot. And yet, with all of that—this is me, in my prime, at the height of my powers—watch me take this load and learn to fly with it. Because I will. Because what I am capable of at middle age is exponentially greater than anything I dared dream in my untested youth.

Happy birthday to me.

Still my anthem:



PS And this is my … epigenetic anthem if you will. Mom, thank you for showing me how to play with matches.

English translation:

You’re underage, your dad’s oppressing you
Taking your nascent power away
Checks your notebook and your pockets, controls
To put out what burns inside

When on Saturday for a party
You whet your appetite
Daddy’s lounging with a beer,
and says,

Hey, baby, don’t go crazy
You’re only sixteen
It’s too early for soirees
The time for night clubs will come
Don’t play with matches
The heat will burn you
Sit at home in the evenings
When a party tempts you
Eh, baby, don’t carouse
One exam after another
That’s life, baby
That’s life

When a wife you’ve been for twenty something years
And your husband collects postcards or stamps
Sometimes you dream of a pub or a bar
With the Argentinian tango after supper
When you want to run out
For a cocktail and a coffee
The husband with achy joints
From behind a newspaper, will say to you
Hey, baby, don’t go crazy
You’re fifty years old
It’s closer not further
What the world had to give you, it already did
Don’t play with matches
The heat will burn you
Sit at home in the evenings
When a party tempts you
Hey, baby, don’t carouse
Cook, clean, do the laundry
That’s life, baby
That’s life

Today you sit quietly in your corner
With a kind little smile on your face
Over cheesecake, homemade jam, your knitting
You no longer dream of anything
Only when it smells like roses
Suddenly you believe that
God himself there above
Quietly whispers to you, hey!
Hey, baby, go crazy
You’re eighty years old
Burn something and pour
The world gave you so little
Play finally with matches
Let the heat burn you
Don’t sit at home in the evenings when a party tempts

Eh, baby, go crazy
Take what you want with greedy handfuls
That’s life, baby
That’s life

Because laughing is good, even when it’s hysterical

File under “things we never thought we would say to our children”:

Sean: The hand sanitizer is not for throwing at your siblings!


Sean: Stop! If you go that way, you’re just going to run into more naked people in wheelchairs.


Sean: Do not put mustard packets down your mother’s shirt! Do not put mustard packets down my shirt! Do not…

Cinder: I am pointing a mustard packet AT your shirt, and you must do whatever I tell you to.