Figuratively dying, literally screaming, kinda lecturing

I.

On Monday, I do savasana the proper way.*

It is so fucking boring, I almost die.

Like, literally.

My heartbeat and breath rate slow down to nada.

Also, figuratively.

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

(Hey, was that a moment of enlightenment?)

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

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

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

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

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II.

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

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

Jane: Yup.

Flora: So everyone knows.

Jane: Yup.

Flora: Censorship is so stupid.

Yup. Except…

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

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III.

Racism is stupid.

Sexism is stupid.

Being an ignorant asswipe is stupid.

You know what else is stupid?

Telling people they’re stupid.

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

Flora: But some things are just wrong.

Jane: Yes.

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

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

Why is this so difficult to explain?

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IV.

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

So, um. No.

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

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

Do you know where sanity lies?

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

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

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

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

We’re all part of the problem.

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V.

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

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

I’m so fucking this up.

Why is this so hard?

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

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

Why is this so hard?

VII.

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

And listen to Hedley:

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

I don’t know if I can do it.

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

😦

“Jane”

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Photos from Project: Beautiful Things All Around Me 

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

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

American hell, the corpse pose & a murder in a yoga studio

I.

For a family of atheists, we spend a great deal of time discussing hell. I guess mostly as a rhetorical or literary device, a metaphor. But still.

So what happened is they said something and I said something and they said something, and then:

Jane: And that, children, is why you’re all going to American hell.

Flora: Wait—there’s an American hell? How is it different from regular hell?

Jane: It’s like regular hell, except the US flag is burning and Donald Trump is president.

Flora: Isn’t that real America?

Jane: Right. I still keep on hoping it’s all a very bad, bad dream.

Flora: So what’s Canadian hell like?

Cinder: Oh, it’s very chill. You get to go to heaven as soon as you say, ‘I’m sorry.’

Flora: What?

Cinder: Yeah, Canadian hell is reserved only for the people who don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ when they accidentally bump into someone. But once you’re in hell, as soon as you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ you get to go to Canadian heaven.

Flora: Cool.

Cinder: Not really. I mean, if you think Canadian hell is boring, imagine Canadian heaven.

I think the awful moral of that story might be that evil is… interesting.

Disturbed?

Me too.

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II.

My least favourite part about EVERY yoga/meditation book I have ever read (which, ok, is a grand sample of… three or four. But still):

“While you can meditate anywhere, it is best to create a dedicated space for your practice…”

…followed by instructions on what to put in your beautiful ‘dedicated’ room after you first unclutter it (and then, I suppose, go shopping for all the sustainable-organic-fair-traded crap that should go on your mindfulness altar).

(Wow, I’m a judgemental bitch. I guess I need to meditate more.)

As I read these privileged pronouncements in the kitchen-that-doubles-as-dining-room-triples-as-office-and-is-also-a-pantry, and then pop into the living-room-that-is-also-the-playroom-computer-room-school-room-library-arts-and-crafts-cupboard, then navigate the stairway landing that is also the linen cupboard—and this is all before I go into the hallway-that-is-the walk-in-closet-that-morphs-into-my-writing-space, I don’t feel an awful lot of compassion and connection to these overly privileged Omming people who are solving their life’s problems by sitting on a designer meditation cushion ($425 on sale at Macy’s) on a newly installed hardware floor (tatami mats are nice too) in an empty room in their 5000 square foot weekend beach house.

(So. Judgemental.)

(Rich, privileged people deserve compassion too.)

(Really.)

(But, fuck, sweetheart. It’s really hard to feel your pain and suffering when the amount of money you saved refurbishing your kitchen exceeds my entire annual income.)

(Yes, fine, so fucking judgemental. I’m taking my judgemental, compassionless ass to another yoga class. Sigh. Coming?)

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III.

So I’m laying in savasana—the so-called corpse pose—at the end of my “I’m a little worried it’s a cult because they’re all dressed in white and the teachers wear fucking turbans!” Kundalini yoga class (I’m doing yoga in January instead of writing, which was probably a TERRIBLE idea but more on that anon)—and the teacher is giving us a gong bath (don’t ask), and I’ve got to tell you, I love savasana. The first time I lay in savasana, I came up with a brilliant three paragraph pitch and completely refined AND managed to hold it in my head all the way home until I got to the computer. The third time, I rehearsed in some detail how I was going to break someone’s heart (not real) and then realized I was going to have to break someone’s very real heart and that sucked, but I was okay with that, and while not quite sure whether it was okay to use the script from the not-real heartbreak in the real heartbreaking, I had a definite script for both.

The fifth time I had the best-ever nap and…

Sean: I’m pretty sure you’re doing savasana wrong.

Jane: Baby, I get to lay still with no one asking me for shit for 5, 10, 20 solid minutes? I am not wasting that time NOT thinking.

…after I woke up, I really wanted to write you a long, detailed letter about my bizarre dream, but that, I did not manage to hold in my head until I got home and to the computer. There was a Phoenix in it, though, and some very bizarre Harry Potter-imprinting. Also, at one point, you were the Phoenix, and you very badly wanted some ice cream. Raspberry cardamom ice cream.

(Actually, I don’t know about that. The raspberry cardamom ice cream, I mean. I had some raspberry cardamom ice cream yesterday, and I thought about you as I ate it, so I have now retroactively put it into the dream. Which reminds me, another time that I lay in savasana, I was thinking about retrocausality and how what we do in the present and want from the future actually changes the past, and… but that’s another story. Where was I going with this one?)

(You: You were laying in savasana

Jane: Right. Thank you!)

So I’m laying in savasana and the teacher is giving us a gong bath (ok, fine, since you’ve asked again, what’s happening is she’s beating the gong and it’s causing these fantastic reverberations that are supposed to quiet—stun?—your mind and thrust you deeper and deeper into relaxation and connection-communion with your true self—I’m paraphrasing—but for the record, I did choose the most cult-like yoga class I could possibly find, why the fuck did I do that?) and I’m laying there and I suddenly get this great idea for a murder mystery set in a yoga studio.

The murder itself, of course, takes place during savasana.

I think the murder has to be the teacher.

But… oh…. yes!

I can’t wait to get home to tell the kids.

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IV.

Jane: So what do you think?

Flora: Ok, let me recap. Everyone is laying on the floor in corpse pose with their eyes closed. And this loud music…

Jane: Gong.

Flora: …this gong is going the whole time. And so the murderer gets up, and kills the victim, and then gets back into corpse pose.

Jane: Exactly.

Flora: And no one sees or hears what happens—because they were all laying there with their eyes closed, and because of the gong.

Jane: Exactly.

Flora: But the teacher is beating the gong the whole time.

Jane: Or is she?

Flora: What?

Jane: Ok, two options. One, the teacher is innocent, and she’s so focused on banging the gong that she doesn’t notice what happens. We could even have her with her back to the class. Or beating it with her eyes closed too. Or—the music is played off an iPad or something and the teacher lies down and does the savasana with all the students.

Flora: Or, two, the students think the teacher is beating the gong, but she’s actually playing a track off iTunes, and she murders the victim while everyone else thinks she’s beating the gong.

Jane: Exactly.

Flora: Too obvious.

Cinder: Are you going to put a police officer in the yoga class?

Ender: The police officer should be the victim.

Flora: No, the police officer should be the yoga teacher.

Jane: Oh, can you imagine how pissed… he? she?

Flora: He.

Jane: he is? Police officer. AND yoga teacher—all in tune and aware of people’s auras and intentions and energies—and one of his students kills another right behind his back.

This is the point in the conversation at which Sean joins us. And shakes his head.

Jane: Don’t tell me I’m not doing savasana properly.

Sean: I won’t. Just… when you go back to yoga tomorrow? Please remember you IMAGINED all this, and your yoga instructor is neither a murderer nor a police officer…

Jane: She’s… he’s the victim, the victim—the yoga instructor-police officer is the victim! And, on that day, his… partner? Or assistant? is in the class for the first time, and they’re both the crime solver, primary witness, and most likely culprit, and…

I wish I wrote murder mysteries. That one would fucking rock.

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V.

The next time I lay in savasana, I write this post.

But I’m still not writing. Still not writing. This doesn’t count, this never counts.

Why is that?

Hmmm.

VI.

Somewhere, in the space between American hell and Canadian heaven, there is…

Flora: Limbo?

Cinder: Purgatory?

…ordinary, everyday life.

Ommmm.

To end this post, lay down in corpse pose and treat yourself to a gong bath:

xoxo

“Jane”

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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True story:

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

Cinder: What’s in it for me?

Jane: My eternal gratitude.

Cinder: I’m sending it by express dog.

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

Cinder: Because it was funny?

Jane: Because you like to antagonize me?

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

[insert bad word here]

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

[even when he sorta is]

[sigh]

[a loveable, amazing asshole]

[just annoying]

[god, i love him… i love him so much]

III.

Am Reading:

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

My favourite part:

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

The outcome CANNOT matter.”

The outcome cannot matter.

Fuck. That. Is. So. Hard.

But so necessary.

The most important lesson:

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

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

Because that is the anthem of my people.

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

My song, too. More or less.

IV.

Am also reading:

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

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


I am not writing.

This is mostly on purpose…

You: And this blog post is what?

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

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

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

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

V.

Have tried to read:

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

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

On my kitchen table:

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

Good enough.

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

Also on my kitchen table:

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

(Inner child.)

(In my head.)

(Because listening is hard work.)

VI.

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

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

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

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

Jane: I’m thinking!

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

It seems like a fair request, right?

It makes me livid.

I peel the orange anyway.

VII.

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

Like these words:

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

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

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

xoxo

“Jane”

The undocumented year

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

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

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

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

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

But I don’t say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Priorities, baby!)

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

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

Actually, it’s more like:

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

Jane: But it’s important!

“That’s why! It’s private!”

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Important. Private.

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

Important. Private.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So.

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

And this is a good thing.

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

Sharing is not an imperative.

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

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*

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

This is a dysfunctional situation.

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

Ugh.

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

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

*

I don’t know.

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

*

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

Before you tell stories, you need to listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And powerful.

But.

I don’t know.

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

I should just shut up and listen.

Ender: Read me the book?

Jane: Ok, baby. Which one?

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

Oh boy.

Mixed messages. Mixed messages.

2017, what am I going to do?

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

xoxo

“Jane”

Postcards From Cuba

2016 Posts that weren’t Postcards From Cuba

indulgent interlude (May 15, 2016)

journeys, birthdays, gratitude (May 24, 2016)

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

Party in purgatory (July 14, 2016)

The price of flow (July 27 2016)

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

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

Expiration date (August 23, 2016)

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

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

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

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POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: sketchy

For Nancy. From whom Cinder adopted “sketchy.”

Listen:

& read:

I.

Cinder: “Sketchy.”

Jane: “What?”

Cinder: “If I had to describe Cuba in one word: sketchy. The cars are sketchy. The buildings—not all of them, but too many—are sketchy. The food is sketchy. The buses are sketchy. The playgrounds… sketchy.

We are at a playground. At which I just told Ender to get off the swing, because, um, I saw the screw in the bracket that’s supposed to hold it attached to the upper pole wiggle and wiggle and wiggle…

Cinder: “Sketchy.”

Well.

Cinder: “I’m going to ask Flora what she thinks. Hey. If you were going to describe Cuba in one word, what would it be?”

Flora: “Mildly traumatizing.”

Jane: “Is it because of all the dead bird parts in the Metropolitan Parque?”

Flora: “And the run down cemetery you made us walk through. Again.”

Cinder: “That’s two words. One word.”

Flora: “Run-down.”

Jane: “But the experience of a lifetime, right?”

Cinder: “Just keep telling yourself that, Mom.”

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II.

We’re walking this crazy loop through a section of our hood where we don’t normally go, and we get lost—mostly on purpose—and end up by the Havana Zoo.

Jane: “No.”

Ender: “But…”

Jane: “Absolutely not. Think about the Aquarium. Quite apart from the fact that the admission price is extortionate, it will make Flora suicidal.”

Flora’s already mildly traumatized, because we went through the Bosque—Havana forest and the Havana Metropolitan Park Natural area—which were wild and beautiful and utterly unkept up and full of garbage and also bird carcasses, what the fuck—and I can’t figure it out until we accidentally interrupt a Santeria ceremony and they’re not sacrificing any chickens, but suddenly, all the feathers and corpses make me think maybe it’s not just cats and vultures and words come out of my mouth, and Flora hates humans.

Flora: “If your stupid religion requires a sacrifice, it should only ever be a human sacrifice, goddammit.”

Jane: “So you’re cool with what the Aztecs were doing then?”

Flora: “Yes. Except for all the llama killing.”

Instead of going into the zoo, I offer to buy them some KFC-style fried chicken. We’re clever now. I order a single serving. “My kids are picky,” I tell the server. “If they like this, I’ll order more.”

Flora: “It’s edible.”

Cinder: “It’s not good.”

Ender: “I don’t think it’s meat.”

Jane: “Is it because you’re thinking about all the bird corpses?”

Cinder: “Well, I wasn’t, but thanks, Mom.”

Jane: “Just drink your Fanta and chew.”

They elect to drink their Fanta and be hungry. I take a bite.

I don’t think it’s meat either. Although—that’s definitely a bone.

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III.

Santeria crash course: Santeria is what happens when Yoruba and other African tribal beliefs meet colonialism and Roman Catholicism. Santeria is the name the Spanish plopped onto the practices they noted among the slaves in the Caribbean. Regla de Ochá or La Regla de Ifá are alternate names for the religion that occurs everywhere in Carribean where colonizers and slaves collided.

Cuba’s version of Santeria is, like everything else about Cuba, uniquely Cuban.

As Vice’s Phil Hill Clarke puts its, “In its earliest days Santeria was an exclusive slave practice — a rejection of the masters’ Catholic saints and the colonial Christian God.”

One of the centers of Santeria in Cuba is the Havana suburb of Regla, but I don’t manage to drag the kids there.

Next time.

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IV.

The colonial period from the standpoint of African slaves may be defined as a time of perseverance. Their world quickly changed. Tribal kings and their families, politicians, business and community leaders all were enslaved and taken to a foreign region of the world. Religious leaders, their relatives and their followers were now slaves. Colonial laws criminalized their religion. They were forced to become baptized and worship a god their ancestors had not known who was surrounded by a pantheon of saints. The early concerns during this period seem to have necessitated a need for individual survival under harsh plantation conditions. A sense of hope was sustaining the internal essence of what today is called Santería, a misnomer (and former pejorative) for the indigenous religion of the Lukumi people of Nigeria. In the heart of their homeland, they had a complex political and social order. They were a sedentary hoe farming cultural group with specialized labor. Their religion, based on the worship of nature, was renamed and documented by their masters. Santería, a pejorative term that characterizes deviant Catholic forms of worshiping saints, has become a common name for the religion. The term santero(a) is used to describe a priest or priestess replacing the traditional term Olorisha as an extension of the deities. The orishas became known as the saints in image of the Catholic pantheon.

— Ernesto Pichardo, CLBA,
Santería in Contemporary Cuba: The individual life and condition of the priesthood

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V.

Our loop takes us past the Ho Chi Minh monument—which is his bust, bronze and conventional, on a marble block—again, conventional. Around it are red poles, roughly shaped into a tent. Part of the monument or a separate public art sculpture?

Cinder: “I don’t get it.”

I explain Ho Chi Minh to them briefly.

Cinder: “No, I mean, the theme of this park. Look, there are all these road signs, right?”

I notice them for the first time, but he’s right—here’s a stop sign, and here’s a yield, and here’s children crossing and…

Cinder: “And the path is painted like a road—see the separating line? So it’s like for kids to bike around in, and learn street signs.”

I nod.

Cinder: “And then… there are the stairs…”

So there are. In the middle of the road.

Cinder: “Sketchy. In a word: sketchy.”

I prefer… not well-thought out.

Like socialism Cubano.

Perhaps socialism itself.

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VI.

Segue: it briefly occurs to me that the problem with socialism is that Karl Marx formulated it at a time when the Industrial Revolution had totally and completely perverted the concept of work, worker… life.

He saw what was happening… and tried to think of a way to make it better.

But he didn’t think… maybe that’s not the way it ought to be at all.

VII.

Old school Castro and the Communists didn’t approve of Santeria or Catholicism or any religion. Religion, you may remember, is the opium of the people and all that.

Perhaps now recognizing that the people need their opium, new school Castro and the post-Communists have stopped actively repressing religion in Cuba. Well, mostly.

As a result, Santeria has undergone a massive renaissance. The BBC reports that it’s Cuba’s most popular religion, and judging by the number of iyabos (initiates), easily recognizable by their all-white costumes, head coverings and beads, the BBC is right.

If you’d like to find out more about Santeria, the aboutsanteria.com site and blog are a good starting point.

Short-hand: there’s more to Santeria than animal sacrifice.

But, that, too.

And the evidence of animal sacrifice causes Flora as much angst as roadkill.

I explain Santeria to the children, in rough outlines.

Cinder: “Sketchy.”

Flora: “Very traumatizing. But then, so is much of this trip.”

What? Really? Why?

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VIII.

Barely a hop and a skip away from the Ho Chi Minh monument is a cemetery. Could it be the Chinese cemetery I’ve read about? I think I see Kanji…

Flora: “Seriously, Mom?”

Jane: “How can we not go in? It’s right here.”

Also, I fucking love cemeteries. All those silent stories…

Flora: “Dear Moxy. I have now been in every single cemetery in Havana. I’m sad to report each is full of decrepit graves, and possibly corpses, although most of the crypts look empty. Mom says the removed bodies have been probably removed by officials and not grave robbers.”

Jane: “Aw. You listen to me when I talk.”

It’s the Chinese cemetery. It. Is. So. Cool.

Cinder: “Sketchy.”

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Ingrates.

Jane: “Experience of a lifetime.”

Cinder: “Humour her. Quick. Before she decides to drag us to another animal sacrifice park.”

Flora: “Experience of a lifetime, Mom.”

That’s better.

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*

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Proofing, planning, priorities, postcards

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You: Jaaaaane…. Jaaaaane… where are you Jaaaane? Where are my postcards?

Jane: Don’t talk to me. I’m proofing.

I’m almost done, almost done, almost back. You’ll get a tiny postcard this weekend, and over November, we will finish Havana—and then take a break for December… because how cruel would it be, to send you Postcards from Cuba while you’re bracing for a cold Canadian winter? I’m going to wait until January before doing that to you—you can enjoy our frosty December without that cruel taunt.

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In the meantime…

Flora: Mom? When did we stop having lunch? Is that something we’re going to start doing again?

Cinder: I miss lunch. Lunch was good.

Ender: What’s lunch?

Don’t feel too sorry for them. The house is full of food. Also, I have kind neighbours.

Her: Just wanted to let you know, your two littles are here. Can they stay for supper?

Jane: Yes!

Her: Do you want me to send something over for Cinder?

Jane: Yes!

Her: Have you eaten anything today?

Jane: …

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I’ll eat soon.

The house is full of food. Nuts and dried cherries and…

You: What the fuck are you, a squirrel?

…and Sean keeps on coming home with chocolate and cream, and it keeps on disappearing, so I’m pretty sure I’m eating.

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Confession: I love this.

I mean, it’s killing me, and my back and neck are stiff, and I want to claw out my eyes, and the house has descended into a new state of chaos—one of Ender’s friends thought she lost her iPod in our living room the other day, and I looked at the room, and I looked at her, and I sighed, “Well, that’s that then. You’ll have to ask your parents for a new one,” because looking for it would require excavation—and I’m feeling overwhelmed and terrified I will miss all my deadlines… but I love it.

So there you go.

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Remind me of that when I moan about how much I have on my plate right now.

You: You love it.

Jane: I hate you. Shut up.

Or, just bring me chocolate.

*

The real reason I’m writing to you today, though…

You: Because you missed me?

Jane: No, you missed ME. Remember? YOU, I carry around in my head always. We’re never apart.

…is because my silence and the disappearance of the postcards from your in-box is a perfect illustration of the fact that the only way shit happens is… DEADLINES.

So. Beloved.

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Before the end of this weekend, you will get an excerpt from a love letter. To tide you over until next week.

On November 9: a riff on racism.

On November 16: facts of life.

On November 23: sketchy—effectively, the Havana finale.

On November 30: “I miss you today.”

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There.

I have put it down in black and white; I have committed, and it doesn’t matter what else falls onto my plate in November, you will get your postcards.

Deadlines.

The only way anything gets done.

xoxo

“Jane”

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PS Some “from the archives” reading that is very apropos right now:

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POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: heavy

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in-between the essays, there are messy journal entries. Such as this one:

listen:

& read:

Today, the tar from the cigar sits heavy in my lungs. The night is heavy—the air has been heavy all day, and my body feels heavy too—leaden—my mind, my heart as well.

I am suddenly aware of the weight of my… toes—the weight of the life the old man from whom I bought the cigar leads. The weight of the cigar, grasped between two fingers seems immense, and so does the weight of every word I write.

28.i.2016

*

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This month’s Postcards from Cuba are brought to you by my creative and illogical approach to finance. You can help! Be my patron, won’t you? Support Postcards from Cuba and Nothing By The Book. Buy me a coffee? A $5 donation is delicious:

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2-3-heavy-scaffolding2

First time here? Visit the landing page for the Postcards from Cuba project.

You: “I’m here for that unschooling talk?”

Me. “Right. Go here & maybe roam through Undogmatic Unschoolers while you’re at it.”

See you next tomorrow, for this week’s feature postcard:

Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

“Jane”

POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: But we won’t get scurvy

For every farmer and back-to-lander there ever was, especially the Sunnyside Community Garden folk. 

Listen (a seven minute commitment):

& read:

prologue

Hi, Mom.

We’re all well and things are good. We have eggs! Long story—I’ll tell you about it when I get back.

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I am not starving your grandchildren, but meat protein continues to be a bit of a challenge. We bought some inedible sausage the other day—I felt so bad about wasting it, but I had to throw it out. But the dumpster cats enjoyed it.

I found a butcher who’d sell to me—in most of the butcher shops near here, the meat is only available on the ration card, to Cubans—but it was pork hanging out in the full sun for god-knows how long, and it made me think about Islamic and Jewish prohibitions against eating pork… and you know what? There’s probably something in them. So we’re mostly eating chicken.

No first world whine—the chicken’s just fine.

Last Sunday, the supermarket was mobbed by a crowd before opening time, so I joined the line in case they were delivering something good—and it turned out to be chicken breasts—that kept us going for a full week. This week, there were chicken legs and thighs—imported from Brazil, and, judging by the Arabic writing on the packaging, destined for Algeria.

Still, between the eggs and the ice cream, we’re doing pretty good. J

M.

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I.

Cinder: “We’re not eating a lot of vegetables while we’re here, are we?”

Dammit. If he—who tries to convince me that ketchup and salsa are vegetables back home—is noticing this, we really must be vegetable deficient.

Jane: “I’ll go to the Agro when I go to pick up the matches. Anyone want to come with me?”

Cinder: “Nope.”

Flora: “Not really.”

Jane: “Really? No one? I’m pretty sure I get better prices when you guys are with me.”

Ender: “I’ll go with you. But only if you buy me ice cream after.”

Blackmailer.

Jane: “Deal.”

7-fruit

II.

I pay $2 pesos (CUP, or moneda nacional) for a box of matches—which seems to be excessive, because a street cigar also costs $2 local pesos, and a cone of ice cream $3, so, $2 pesos? Really? The unshaven man wearing unmatched shoes is insistent, and I need matches, so I fork over another coin—but don’t buy cigars from him.

$2 CUP, as far as I figure it, is $0.08 CUC (but don’t take my word for it, my Cuban math sucks), which is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a box of matches… it’s just that shouldn’t a box of matches—especially of matches that don’t work that well—cost significantly less than a cigar?

(I find out later that $2 pesos is the standard street price for matches. Who knew?)

Matches in one hand and Ender’s sticky hand in the other, I hike over to the Agro… which is empty. Closed. Fuck. It’s Monday. Of course.

Vendor: “Hey, woman who hates my tomatoes—you want to buy some fruit?”

It’s one of the vendors from whom I’ve bought beans, bananas and carrots—from whom I refused to buy tomatoes—and whose brother asked me if I wanted to buy lobster. Which he was lugging around in a backpack.

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I didn’t buy it.

Jane: “Yes… but I see you’re closed.”

Vendor: “That’s not a problem. Come in.”

I follow him through the gate—his father (genes, they be powerful things) blows me a kiss and makes a face at Ender—into a back room full of crates and agro workers, who are allegedly sorting… but mostly chilling and smoking.

Vendor: “We have everything, everything. What do you want? We have bananas, mangoes, guava, papaya…”

Jane: “Tomatoes?”

Vendor: “I remember you hate my tomatoes, but today we have beautiful tomatoes.”

He’s right. They’re gorgeous—by which I mean neither rotting nor green. The bananas, alas, are falling apart, and so are the mangoes. I’m regretful—I’ve been dying to try one of the giant Cuban mangoes, but it’s between seasons, so they’re all rotten.

He finds me a bunch of bananas that are still more yellow than brown—ripe, lusciously sweet, but not yet liquid. Another bunch that he says I must eat today. I don’t want to take it but it’s too late—it’s in my bag.

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Vendor: “What else?”

What else? I look around.

Jane: “Cucumbers. Not limp ones like last time.”

Jesus. I can’t believe I said that. Everyone in the room starts howling while I turn red, and I pretend I don’t understand what he says next.

Vendor: “Casava?”

Jane: “No.”

Vendor: “Still haven’t learned how to cook it?”

Yeah. Not a clue what to do with it. Cut it? Bake it? Shred it?

Jane: “Carrots?”

Vendor: “Um… no carrots. Oranges?”

Jane: “No, I don’t like the oranges.”

Vendor 2: “These are incredible, delicious, oranges.”

Jane: “I haven’t had good oranges in Cuba yet. They’re all sour.”

Vendor 2: “No, no, these are delicious, so sweet. Hold on, I’ll peel one for you.”

Ender starts dancing—he’s my orange-loving Orange Boy—and he’s missed oranges, and resented my refusal to buy them (after the first few purchases of inedible green balls of sour juice-less-ness). To my surprise, the orange is actually orange inside and juicy and delicious.

Vendor: 2: “Yeah?”

Jane: “Yeah.”

Vendor 3: “How about guava? Do you like guava?”

Jane: “I love guava, but this is too…”

I can’t remember the word for rotten—that would be rude anyway—and I’m afraid to say soft.

Vendor 4: “Here, this one is perfect. No charge.”

I hand over $5CUC for a pound or two of tomatoes, two cucumbers, three pounds of bananas, and a bag of oranges I can barely lift. “Oh, I see limes, give me a lime,” I add. They give me a lime. And change. I give it back. “For the service.” “No, no.” They shake their heads.

Put more limes in my bag.

Jane: “Enough, enough!”

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III.

Flora: “Did you get any meat?”

Jane: “Um. No.”

Flora: “What did you get?”

I empty the bags onto the kitchen counter.

Cinder: “Wow, are you worried we’re going to get scurvy?”

Jane: “Maybe a little.”

Cinder: “You shouldn’t be. What about all that orange pop we’re drinking?”

Right. Fortified with Vitamin C?

Maybe?

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*

This month’s Postcards from Cuba are brought to you by my creative and illogical approach to finance. You can help! Be my patron, won’t you? Support Postcards from Cuba and Nothing By The Book. Buy me a coffee? A $5 donation is delicious:

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*

First time here? Visit the landing page for the Postcards from Cuba project.

You: “I’m here for that unschooling talk?”

Me. “Right. Go here & maybe roam through Undogmatic Unschoolers while you’re at it.”

See you next week,

“Jane”

A passion for learning and for life: unschooling and worldschooling in practice (a NOT-BACK-TO-SCHOOL present)

Today… something extra special…

For everyone whose kids aren’t heading back to school today, in appreciation of the path you’ve chosen to walk. Never a dull moment, is there?

And, for everyone whose kids are heading back to school today, who, 10 years later, are still asking me, “But how do you do it? And what is it, exactly, that you do all day?”

I’ve finally decided to tell you. 😉

*

In gratitude to Inspired Calgary for the opportunity to get on the soapbox, and to sponsors Pandia Press, Bravewriter, Patterson Springs  Farm, Wild Child Alternative Education, Bean & Bear Media, and Mountain Reach Educators for making the event possible.

And an extra-special thank you for Sean Lindsay to capturing the event on video so that those of you who weren’t there can see me call Yo-Yo Ma a violin player.

(I was very nervous.)

The transcript of the speech I was supposed to give follows the video. Obviously, I departed from the script just a little…

Prepared speech

All right. Unschooling. Let’s have a quick poll. Who here is familiar with the concept, philosophy, whatever you wanna call it? Who thinks it’s the best idea ever and that’s what they’re going to do with their kids? Awesome. I love preaching to the choir… Who thinks it’s totally kooky and only crazy people would do it? Who equates it with unlearning and unparenting?

Don’t be shy to tell me so—when I first heard of unschooling, I was kind of appalled. And, here I am, 10 years later, its fourth biggest advocate.

Its first, second and third biggest advocates are my three children.

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Unschooling, as most of you know, was the term coined by homeschool advocate John Holt—and I’m sure you’re all reading all of his books and Growing Without Schooling articles—they’re all archived on the web—if you’re not devouring them, do, they are absolutely inspirational.

John Holt used the term unschooling to refer to homeschooling in general. Holt thought that the best and most important thing about homeschooling was that it not duplicate school in the home environment.

Since then, the idea of unschooling, and the term itself, has acquired all sorts of definitions and sister terms, including delight-driven learning, free range learning, child-led learning, interest-led learning. There are as many ways, today, of defining unschooling as there are families who call themselves unschoolers.

(You can read how Flora defines unschooling here.)

The thing most people think we have in common is that we are curriculum-free—or at least curriculum-light. The actual, much more important thing that I believe all unschoolers have in common is that we love learning and we believe our kids love learning and we believe our kids will learn whatever they need to learn as they need to learn it.

This is both unbelievably easy and unbelievably hard.

It also starts, not with believing in your child, but with believing in yourself. To be an effective unschooling parent, you need to love, crave, delight in learning new things. All the time. And be confident that… you can do it. That when you need to learn Japanese—you will sit down, grit your teeth, do the work, and learn Japanese.

If you don’t have that trust and confidence in yourself, you will not have it in your children.

LanternsPin

So I actually have an assignment for all of you who are thinking about unschooling. I want you to think about something you’ve always wanted to know how to do—and, starting tomorrow, I want you to start working on it. Japanese? Knitting? Car maintenance? Worm composting? It doesn’t matter what. Something.

It’s possible that you’re a little out of practice at chasing your passions and your interests. Before you start helping your children on their unschooling journey, launch yourself. Be passionate about your life, your interests, your learning.

I think that’s a critical prerequisite for being an unschooling family. The parents have to be committed life learners too.

My second assignment for you, if you are thinking about unschooling, is to commit a month to—are you ready for this?—doing nothing to actively shape your children’s education. Just… watch them. When you’re not setting the agenda—what do they do? When left to their own devices, when they are not interrupted, when they are not shuttled from activity to activity, playdate to playdate, what do they do?

Pay attention. Do it alongside them—or at least watch them. What do they love to do?

Then offer them a little more of it. But not too much. Make it findable, reachable, available—but don’t shove it down their throats.

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So this is the point in the conversation when someone usually starts to hyperventilate a little and say,

“But if they want to be a world class violin player and I don’t get them in early child hood music education by three and practicing an hour a day by five, they’ll never get there!”

Or “But if they’re not reading by six they’ll be behind.”

Or “But suppose all they want to do is play video games?”

Here’s the thing: a child raised to love learning will never be behind. A child brought up in a family that values learning and who learns how to learn continuously, constantly—not to pass a test, not to get a certificate but to acquire a skill or knowledge they need and want to have—that child has an incredible leg up on kids who are forced to learn things they don’t care about.

How many of you had to take French as a second language in school? I did, through to grade 12. Languages are incredibly easy for me. I spoke five or six before I was 10. I learned Japanese and Korean in university. Spanish when I decided I wanted to travel in Latin America. I’m learning Farsi now. French? After being made to learn it when I didn’t care about it?

I think I can say Please and thank you in a horrible Western Canadian accent, and that’s about it.

What Went Right

Here’s another thing, though—if you can’t make yourself believe this—if you think your children will never want to learn to read unless you make them—if you think your children will never want to learn math unless you make them—unschooling is not for you. I’m not sure homeschooling is for you, either, but that’s a highly controversial statement and if you like, we can argue about that on Twitter sometime, but not here.

(I’m @NothingBTBook. Come fight–er, talk–with me.)

If all your kids want to do is play video games—awesome. There are so many studies coming out now about the advantages of video game playing on learners, that Sweden has made Minecraft mandatory in its schools. What you, as a parent, need to do in that case is—hang out beside your children while they’re playing their games. What are they doing, really? There’s more happening than just swiping at the screen in most of the games children gravitate to.

Talk to them about what they enjoy. And why. If you think the game they’re playing is idiotic—it’s okay to think that—try not to say it. Watch. Angry Birds is all about geometry. Minecraft is fabulous. Fruit Ninja, I’m not so sure about, but, you know, the lame games, kids burn out on—they binge for a while, and then move on to something more stimulating. Hate the game they’re playing? Do some research and offer a more interesting one.

(You might want to check out these posts too: How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games + space-that-is-me-my-heart-made-made-into-place, which is about the dangers of telling people you love that the things they love are stupid)

As for that world class violin player who’ll never fulfill her dreams unless you get her in lessons by age three…

One in a million three year olds has the kind of talent that will turn her into a violinist like Itzhak Perlman or a cellist like Yo-Yo Ma.

(Also, yes, I’m totally making up this statistic. I’m not actually a 100 per cent sure what instrument Yo-Yo Ma plays. Call me on it.)

And if she has that talent, there is very little you can do to extinguish it. Fail to sign her up for violin lessons—she will find a ukulele in a neighbour’s house and start strumming it. She will demand lessons. She will practice without you telling her to.

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I feel a cynic in the audience, who says no child will practice violin—guitar—piano—unless you make her. Not even a talented child. Again, I say—if you unschool, you have to have that faith.

I agree with you that plenty of children can be turned into competent musicians if you force them to practice.

(Not everyone’s an artist. And that’s ok.)

What I’m saying is that the children who truly love music—art—science—math—for whom it is the interest and the passion—they will discover it and chase it and master it without you forcing them to sit down for an hour of practice every afternoon.

If you don’t believe me, you shouldn’t unschool. You will be miserable, and you will make your children miserable with your inconsistency and lack of confidence in themselves.

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OK. Enough philosophy. What you all want to know is, what does unschooling look like on a daily basis? And I’ll give you a few examples from my family, but before I do I want to talk about scheduling, routines and rhythms.

For me, unschooling does not equal unscheduling. It does not mean not knowing what the hell we’re going to do tomorrow or next week or next month in all aspects of our lives. It does not mean waking up Monday morning, rolling out of bed at 11 a.m.—that’s only in my fantasies, sigh—and saying, “Gee, I wonder what we’re going to do today?”

I work, my kids’ daddy works, our work demands introduce a fair bit of deadline-driven chaos into our lives, and all of my children do better in the context of some sort of predictable schedule. One of the things that worries me most when people first discover unschooling is that they turn it into this Religion of Freedom in which nothing is planned, all is chaos… and everyone is miserable. Some people do great when everything in their lives is unplanned and unpredictable.

I am not one of them, and neither are any of my children.

And so—no unscheduling in my life. Our life, and our unschooling practice, has a definite rhythm. It’s a responsive rhythm rather than a rigid one, but there’s a definite routine.

nbtb-thinking about laundry

The main anchors of our daily routine are, frankly, about me, and not the kids. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is write for 30 minutes. This is my meditation, my religious practice, my work, my everything—no matter what else happens in my day, this is what I must do. Then, I check in with the kids to make sure they’ve eaten—keep in mind my kids are 14, 11 and almost 7 now—and I make sure they’re settled into doing something—it’s summer still in our world  so that something generally involves being outside with their friends—and then I go back and try to wring at least another hour of time, sometimes two for my work.

Then I turn my attention back to the kids. Feed them second breakfast or first lunch—anyone else’s kids just never stop eating—and be available to them if they need me for something. This would be the time that I do math with 11 year old, or she’ll show me her latest modeling clay project or something, or my seven year old will want to show me his Lego project. Or we might read. Or we’ve made plans, or make plans to go somewhere interesting in the city, alone or with friends.

nbtb-munchkin manuscript mustard

I have a teenager now, and he sleeps until late, and when he wakes up, I try to be present and not distracted to just hang with him for a bit. He and I are trying to get into the habit of doing math each afternoon for 15-30 minutes—he’s very math/science/engineering focused, and he’ll probably want to do some on-line math courses soon, so we’re working on establishing those habits. How does this fit into an unschooling philosophy? See, this is something he wants to do—this awareness and desire came at an age at which it made sense to him that certain building blocks had to be in place first—and so, we’re doing it.

By the way, after not doing any math, at all, until my eldest was 11 or 12, we breezed through grade 2, 3 and 4 level math in 17 days—I kept track—and then grade 5 took a little longer, 21 days. And then we took a break for almost year, reviewed everything in a week, and he keeps on plugging away at it. And he’s the one who reminds me we’ve skipped too many days.

nbtb-gamers and jumpers

When he’s not doing that, by the way, all he does is play video games. And run. And listen to audiobooks. And watch Youtube vloggers. And run. And play video games. And Skype with friends. And make cookies from scratch. And run to the Y to go for a swim. And look up tutorials on how to set up servers, hack mods or optimize his computer to better play video games.

All he does is play video games… and I think he’s doing ok.

(But did you notice that… he doesn’t just play video games? I know this—because I watch and pay attention…)

The 11 year old is an artist, and she spends big chunks of her day drawing or making jewelery. Also writing stories about unicorns. Yesterday, she came to me and said she wanted to ramp up her math. So that might happen.

The not quite 7 year old mostly plays in dirt and with Lego.

So my afternoons focus on what the kids need and want, and might include going swimming, going to a thing—there are so many things happening in Calgary all the time! It’s awesome! An unschooler’s tip: I put all the things in my calendar as I hear about them. So, Beakerhead is coming up—if you don’t know what Beakerhead is, google it, and I’ve just taken care of all your science planning for the year, you’re welcome—as soon as the program guide came into my hands, I ran through it, marked all the stuff that looked cool, put it in my calendar, and so, when on that Wednesday in September, I’m not on deadline and we want to go do a thing—look! There’s a cool thing happening! Let’s go!

NBTB-beakerhead 2015 intrude

When we get back from a thing—or when I finish a bout of doing something with them at home—by late afternoon, we all take a break from each other. The kids either go to hang with friends—we live in a great neighbourhood for that—or chill with audiobooks or the little guy builds Lego—and I go to my writing space or to the balcony to be alone. I might work or inflict myself on social media… or I might just stare off into space for a while.

As an aside—self-care and taking time for yourself and to be alone is so critical as a homeschooling parent. Teachers have regular breaks. So do day care workers. Make sure you give them to yourself.

Then, supper. After supper, the kids can go on screens—so when I said my eldest plays video games all the time, I just meant all night. Except on binge days—that’s another part of our routine—I need two days a week when I can really hyper-focus on my work, and on those days, they have unlimited screen time.

Ironically, those days don’t look that much different for them than the other days, except that I’m not really available to them in any meaningful way.

A couple of nights a week, my daughter has martial arts class—the boys don’t do classes of any sort, it’s against their religion, my eldest informed me once—and a couple of nights a week, I take to myself and head out of the house almost as soon as my partner comes home.

Once or twice a month, I get us out of the city for most of the day—into the mountains, or to Drumheller or to a place like that.

And that’s sort of what unschooling looks like.

It looks like… life.

JourneyStripGrunge

I’m going to give worldschooling just a few minutes before I close, because worldschooling is not complicated. You travel, you learn. You experience, you learn. That’s really not much else to it. And you will worldschool just the way you homeschool. So, as an unschooler talking about worldschooling, the perspective I offer is for goodness’ sake do not turn every museum-temple-whatever visit into a forced educational experience with pre-experience reading and post-experience worksheets! But, you know, if that kind of thing is a critical part of your personality, you will bring that to homeschooling and to worldschooling. And that’s okay. We have to be the people we are.

I think almost all of us dream about the possibility of worldschooling, right? Travel, exotic locales—it’s exciting. I’ve just spent three months with my kids witnessing a Cuba in a transition as intensive as the Communist revolution of 1959 and it was exhilarating.

17-Haunted House

I’ve taken my kids to Poland, France, London. To all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, and to fishing villages in Mexico too.

This is a fabulous experience, and if you can afford to travel the world with your children, do it. It will be exhausting, and at times you will wonder why you ever bothered to leave—but in the end it will be worth it.

If you can’t afford to—and I think this is a really important thing to keep in mind as you go along on your homeschooling journey—everything is possible in theory, right, but practical considerations trump our dreams. Travel is expensive, even when you do it cheaply—especially if you are a family of five, six or eight, right? Your job, your partner’s job—and input into you taking your children off to Asia for six months, come on honey, you won’t miss us that much—your own level of comfort—these are all important considerations.

Trio on benches at laundry park2

If they keep you close to home—worldschool in your city and your community.

There are two ways of doing this. The first is to look at your city and your province the way a tourist would. If I were a stranger here, where would I go? What would I see? Make a list of all of this area’s museums and tourist attractions—even the crappy ones. And explore them, even the crappy ones. The Torrington Gopher Hole Museum is a one of a kind experience, and it’s only an hour away.

Walk the streets of your city—or the one that’s an hour’s drive away—with no agenda other than to experience it—learn it. Obviously—take your children along.

The second—we live in a multicultural city, and we live in the time of the Internet! Take advantage of both. Go to the city’s various cultural festivals. Go to ethnic markets. Take your kids out for some out-of-your-comfort-zone food—or get a cook book out of the library and prepare an Indonesian or Moroccan or whatever feast at home.

One of our favourite things to do is to go to the Asian supermarket and look at all the foods we don’t eat. And, sometimes, buy them and eat them. Often they’re delicious. Occasionally, they’re gross. Both experiences are fabulous.

NBTB-read my mind 2

I don’t have to tell you how the Internet brings the world to you—I’m just going to remind you not to forget it. A vicarious experience of the world is right there, at your fingertips. One of my kids favorite things that they’ve found on the Internet on their own and brought home to me is Universal Yums. Every month, a box of candies and snacks from a different country arrives in our mailbox, complete with a little booklet of facts and trivia about the region of the month, sometimes with links to music or movies—what a spring board for further exploration!

nbtb-UniversalYums

UniversalYums.com, and yes, they ship to Canada.

The world is your classroom.

Your city is your classroom.

Your life is your classroom.

Explore.

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If you want to learn more about unschooling, I do have a legacy blog, Undogmatic Unschoolers, you are welcome to mine for information. I only update it twice a year now, with the children’s learning plans in September, and their progress reports in June–you may find these helpful as you consider your own un/home/learning journey. It also has all sorts of unschooling-in-calgary resources.

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POSTCARDS FROM CUBA return with a teaser tomorrow. Are you ready?

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If I’ve changed your life–I aim high ;)–consider buying me a cup of coffee ($5), a bottle of cheap wine ($20), or,  you know, a week’s worth of groceries ($350).*

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(Seriously. Those damn kids WILL. NOT. STOP. EATING.)

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Expiration date

nbtb-etienne zack

I.

Jane: I’m going to blog about…

Flora: No.

Jane: How about…

Cinder: No.

Jane: Goddammit, it was really funny. I know, I’ll write about…

Ender: No!

Consent. It’s a thing.

This is why I now write fiction. For adults.

(But I’m still keeping notes for a bestselling memoir called The Secret Lives of Children.)

nbtb-gallery view

II.

This is not a non sequitur. You will see.

k d lang on creativity:

“if you just celebrate the fact
that you get to be creative
it’s a totally different ball game
than if you look at it
as a means to an end
as a vehicle to success”

(You can check out the interview that’s excerpted from here).

III.

While everyone was having a final moment with The Hip, I couldn’t bear to look and instead, feeling maudlin, I was binging on kd lang, and wondering… if I had learned I had an immediate expiration date—three months, three years, three days—what would I do NOW?

Sappho1

III.

Flora: Mom? You know how we spend all this time planning your funeral?

OK, we don’t. We only ever did it once… but I think it mildly traumatized them.

Jane: Um… yeah?

Flora: So should I die before you—I want to be cremated and have my ashes turned into glitter.

Jane: Glitter?

Flora: Yeah, you know. Like glitter glue, glitter paint, all sparkly?

Jane: I’m not sure if ashes…

Flora: You probably won’t have to do anything. After all, I am an evolved unicorn. I’ll probably just turn to glitter naturally.

Naturally.

nbtb-priorities

IV.

We all have an expiration date—an end date—don’t we? What’s yours? What’s mine? Suppose it were tomorrow?

Fingers hover over the keyboard. Where the fuck am I going with this?

Ender climbs into my lap and knocks the laptop screen over. I tuck him into my left armpit and kiss his crazy dreadlocked hair. We shift and reposition—I try to reach other his squirming body to reach the keyboard with my left hand…

Ender: You’re squeezing me to death, Mom!

Jane: That’s because it’s rather hard to type while hugging you.

Ender: You can’t stop.

Hugging him? Or the other?

I wrap my left hand around his head. Type only with my right.

Where am I going with this?

If I had an expiration date.. what would I do? What would I change?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard

I keep on hugging. And typing, with one hand.

Then get kd lang to belt out Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the background:

xoxo,

“Jane”

POST-SCRIPTS

For writers:

One Stop For Writers–a new initiative by Calgary writer and entrepreneur Angela Ackerman

From around the world:

Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink by Kristi Coulter on Quartz –also check out author Kristi Coulter’s blog, Off-Dry: Sober Girl, Loopy World

If you’re in yyc:

You MUST go to the Esker Art Gallery  and see Wafaa Bilal’s 168:1 exhibit. –it wraps up this Sunday and it needs to be seen.

Also:

Passionate Kisses featuring performances by The Coming Out Monologues, August 31, at The Simmons Building

Inspired Calgary: Calgary’s First Secular Homeschooling Conference, Cardel Theatre, Sept 3rd—come hear me speak about unschooling.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Plaza, Sept 4th.

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nbtb-wafaa bilal at esker

Frida Kahlo was a selfie master

Procrastination, or unwinding, 1:

Working Selfie

Procrastination, or unwinding, 2:

Working Selfie 2

Procrastination taken to a brand new level:

nbtb-SelfieMaster

Cinder’s commentary:

Cinder: You know, Mom, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but before there selfie, there was this thing called the someone-elsie, and it was this crazy thing–get this–someone else would take your photo. Bizarre, eh? It was invented in the Victorian times by…

Smart-ass.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS. No homework this week. Please yourself.

PS2 For Postcards from Cuba, go here.

PS3 What? I’m busy. And you’re on holiday. And I know you’re not doing the homework anyway.

PS4 Fine. Across the street (or hallway) from you lives a 72 year old woman who always wears a blue wig and carries her pet cat in a bird cage. This drives you crazy. And… go… 500 words minimum–the story ends with her dying and bequeathing you the cat and the wig.

PS5 For Postcards from Cuba, go here.

PS6 What? I gave you the beginning and the ending. You just have to take care of the middle.

PS7 Fine. Just take a selfie, fiddle with it in Photoshop or something and call it art.

The price of flow

I.

JaneAusten6

You: “So, no post last week, eh Jane? Slacking off?”

Jane: “Twenty-five thousand words in five days, baby, and a first-final draft of a third novel finished. What did you do? Play Pokemon Go?”

I’m totally bragging.

I’ve never, ever had flow like that before.

But, in case envy is devouring you right now, let me assure you: the post-output bliss lasts exactly 24 minutes, and I’m currently convinced that if it came that easily and that quickly, it must be shit.

II.

Assignment: Fingers on keyboard—I won’t make you write this by hand—fingers on keyboard, ready? And… “Why I no longer take selfies” or “In praise of the selfie phenomenon.” 25 minutes.

Don’t stop. 25 minutes. Fingers dancing.

Now—stop.

You should have 500 words.

Now cut it down to 250…

Stop whining.

The final piece is going to 150, including your headline.

You’re welcome.

NBTB-Exhausted Blogger

III.

A first-final draft, by the way, is the first draft that you think is a final draft (in reality it’s the fourth, fifth, seventh), until you start to show it to people and…

Him: “So… Chapter 17… have you considered that it should actually be Chapter 3? And, um, half its current size?”

Her: “Actually, a paragraph. Maybe even just two sentences. It fleshes out a character that only exists to illustrate… Get rid of her, and, instead…”

Jane: “You don’t understand my vision at all. You’re stupid. Fat. And those shoes are UGLY.”

Ah, fuck. That was supposed to be just communicated to you through the squinting of my eyes. It wasn’t supposed to come out of my mouth.

Sorry. Are we still friends?

IV.

The children subsist on stale bread softened with margarine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, except for the days when Cinder breaks down and makes everyone hot dogs.

When he does, our industrial-size container of mustard leaps out of the fridge and tries to kill him.

He swears. A good mother would ask him if he needs help cleaning up the mess.

Jane: “I’m writing. See if the dog will eat some of it?”

He cleans up the best he can. Puts the mustard back in. Reaches in for the ketchup.

Cinder: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”

Jane: “Again?”

Cinder: “This time, it was more of a suicide attempt than homicide.”

We clean up the mess together. Look at the offending container.

Jane: “When that thing is empty, I am never, ever, ever buying mustard again.”

Cinder: “We could just throw it out now.”

Flora: “No! I love mustard.”

So. We suffer.

Because we love her.

That be life…

V.

Sean goes to Costco—home of the industrial size mustard—on Saturday, after he sees Ender spreading mustard on a stale tortilla.

Ender: “There’s nothing else to eat!”

Sean: “Oh, come on. There’s also…”

A pickle.

Ender eats it.

Sean goes to Costco. Comes back with all the things. Also, an industrial size bag of sugar.

It’s a sweet, sweet gesture—because Flora’s in baking camp right now, and she’s planning to make her entire family fat and diabetic before the end of the summer.

It’s too big to fit into any of our cupboards.

Jane: “Where should we put this?”

Sean: “Um…”

It’s currently the centerpiece of our kitchen table.

I think—I’m not sure—Sean and I are engaged in a Cold War of apathy to see who will break down first and take it down to the basement… as an offering to the mice or ants.

VI.

I’m thinking about selfies today, I think, because the lines around my eyes, lips seem more pronounced—it’s the sleep deprivation—but also beautiful—that’s the post-output elation—and also, about how you told me you don’t think you’re beautiful, and this just blows my mind, how is this possible, have you never looked in a mirror?

You: “When I look in the mirror, I don’t see what you see.”

Jane: “Then look in my eyes instead.”

VII.

Flora makes cupcakes. Macaroons. Banana bread. Cinder bakes chocolate chip cookies. Sean roasts two chickens.

Me, I cut two thousand words, and write seven hundred for money. In my sleep.

NBTB-Meditation for writers

VIII.

Cinder takes a steak knife and pokes a hole in the industrial size bag of sugar.

Jane: “Why. The. Fuck. Did. You. Do. That?”

Cinder: “I think… I think this is one of those times when the answer is obvious, Mom.”

Jane: “Because it was there?”

Cinder: “And it’s been there for a really long time. We really should put it in the pantry.”

Jane: “Mice. Ants.”

He finds an industrial size plastic ice cream bucket and brings it up to the kitchen.

I transfer the sugar into it.

He borrows a Sharpie from Flora. Labels the top of the container:

Cinder’s Crystal Meth.

Flora: “Nice. Let’s make sure that’s out when people come to visit.”

IX.

What needs to happen next is I need to not think about words, in words for a few days. At least hours.

This is achievable.

Right?

Right.

Wrong.

I don’t know.

Help.

nbtb-sleeping while i work

X.

Flora brings macaroons from baking camp.

Oh, yes.

Jane: “Like something is telling me ‘I love you’ inside my mouth.”

Flora: “That good?”

Jane: “That good.”

The best part: Cinder doesn’t like them, and Sean and Ender are allergic.

Mine! All mine!

XI.

I guess I could clean house. It’s filthier than…

…but I can’t rouse myself to do so. I text you instead.

Jane: “Coffee?”

You: “Champagne?”

Cinder: “Mom! The fucking mustard fell out of the fridge again!”

Life.

 

xoxo,

“Jane”

PS.

You: “That made very little sense.”

Jane: “Twenty five thousand words that made sense in five days. I. Am. Fried.”

PS2 Don’t forget your assignment. Selfies. Love them? Hate them? Tell me.

 

NBTB-BlankPage Blank

PS3 Looking for POSTCARDS FROM CUBA? Go here & think about clicking here:

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Party in Purgatory

I.

File under “proof we get the kids we’re raising”:

Jane (texting): Check in and report.

Flora: We’re all dead.

Jane: Dammit. All three?

Flora: Yup.

Jane: Knew I should have had four.

I know, I know. She’s going to need therapy.

Jane: Home in 5 min to start planning the funeral.

Flora: Where are you?

Jane: Walking. By Sammie’s Park.

Flora. Yay… CAR!

Confession: it took me a while to get it. But I got it.

Jane: Fuck, it hit me and now I’m dead too.

Flora: Yay, party in purgatory. Is that the right word?

Jane: Pretty sure we’re all going straight to hell.

Flora: Yup.

nbtb-party in purgatory

II.

When I was 21, I had a friend—then 28—who used to say that doing the things you didn’t want to do that had to be done when they had to be done—and not putting them off until tomorrow—was the sign of a grown up.

She was a grown up. I was working on it.

The world is sadly devoid of grown ups these days, don’t you think?

nbtb-support local

III.

 

So, I went and I did the things. Some of them anyway. Sigh. Being a grown up is so utterly unrewarding sometimes. So. Now, it’s time to play.

Your assignment for this week: Every time you want to check Facebook or text someone—including me—you’re going to pull out your notebook or laptop, and write for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter what. Feel free to write, “I really want to check Facebook, and that bitch said I couldn’t. Who died and made her God? Why am I doing this? I’m so going to check Facebook.” (And you can, love. After you write for 10 minutes first.)

You: “That sounded more like practice than play.”

Jane: “It’s both. You can’t play the game until you’ve practiced the basic moves a few times.”

IV.

Coolest thing I saw/experienced this week:

nbtb-glasscollective2

It’s a PORTABLE glass blowing studio. I know, right? Check out GlassHouseCollective for more info… and play with fire this summer, will you?

xoxo

“Jane”

PS If you’re in yyc, check this out:

Sofar Sounds Show / July 16, 2016, 6:00pm
Location to be announced to attendees
Free, donations accepted, register for your invitation

“Are you familiar with Sofar? No? Well you should be! Its goal is to find local artists and host private, acoustic sessions in intimate, alternative settings. Think a curated house, gallery or museum concert. Each one is hosted by volunteers who welcome 50 to 100 music lovers into their space, along with three to five local music acts. Those who have signed up and are chosen will be given the address day before the event but the lineup will remain a mystery.” sofarsounds.com

PS2 If you’re looking for POSTCARDS FROM CUBA, start here or jump to the table of contents… and, please consider supporting the project with a $5 contribution:

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… and the rest of the postcards will start flowing your way in September.

Jane: “What? Can you give more? Oh, baby, as many zeros after that five as your affluence permits! But a $5 contribution DOES make a difference.”

indulgent interlude

I.

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

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

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

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

Interlude4

II.

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

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

Cinder: “I think Mom needs a hug.”

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

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

It was good.

Interlude3

III.

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

…that’s a village, that is good.

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

Interlude1

IV.

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

Then I feel selfish.

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

Do you know what that means?

On Saturday… I write.

 

xoxo

self-indulgently yours,

“Jane”

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

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

Interlude2

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

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

Slideshow: Chasing Lung Cancer, Unedited Series

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If you enjoy the Postcards project, you can  be a content patron by making a donation via PayPal:

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smooches,

J.

POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: flora, fauna + waiting

For–no, not Flora, come on, how obvious would that be?–Monika. Who once had one of those jobs.

Today’s post is brought to you by Janine Morigeau‘s almost-soundproof basement, Harold Cardona’s Snowball mike, and Sean Lindsay‘s prowess with Adobe Audition. Thank you, my beautiful friends.

Listen:

… and read:

I.

We’re in Havana’s Natural History Museum, which isn’t nearly as depressing as Havana’s National Aquarium—chiefly because all the animals are stuffed, so one might feel sorry that they’re dead but one does not feel sickened by the awful life they’re leading.

Ender is totally completely enthralled.

24-Enderinfrontofdino

Flora’s mildly interested.

Cinder is bored out of his mind.

Me… I’m fascinated by all the wrong things.

Like so many things in Havana, the museum is a time-piece, an anachronism… and also, an embodiment of the tension and lunacy that result from the attempt to insert political education into everything. The mix of 19-century shackles carried into the 20th century—the good intentions handicapped by strapped resources—the desire to educate but only in the right way—the inclusion of Russian scientists nobody else has heard of in the gallery of the giants of science…

Jane: “This is so weird…”

Cinder: “Are you talking about how few indigenous mammals there are in Cuba? It’s not weird at all—it’s an island, and…”

Unschooling for the win. I didn’t even notice that, but yes. The paucity of the local fauna is actually quite astounding. A result of the Spanish conquest, or predating it? Large mammals don’t thrive on islands, of course. Were there more mammals, more birds before the Spaniards and their guns arrived? Must find out…

Now that Cinder points it out, there are virtually no reptiles—except for the sexy sea turtles—in the museum either. And we keep on seeing geckos and little lizards everywhere. Is it because they are common as prairie dogs back home and only tourists give a fuck?

Also… as far as this museum is concerned, Cuba has no flora at all…

Flora: “Are you talking about me?”

Jane: “Not exactly…”

But what I really think is weird is how massively overstaffed the museum is… and how none of the staff is actually doing anything.

Guide 1: “No running!”

Guide 2: “No touching!”

Apologies. There’s that.

The museum is spread over two floors, and the exhibits sort of flow into one another, but there are archways and open doorways, and at each of these divisions, there are two women—white shirts, beige skirts—sitting in plastic lawn chairs.

Guide 3: “No running!”

Guide 4: “No touching!”

At the moment, in addition to us, there are three other families in the museum (it’s small enough and so designed that from almost any vantage point, at least on the second floor, I can see the entire space). The guides outnumber us—especially if you count the clump of four at the front, by the cash register and the mandatory bag check.

Cinder sits down in a chair by a table on which are three books about Cuba’s most important naturalist. (I didn’t write down his name, so you don’t get to find out who he was, precisely.)

Guide 5 comes up to him immediately.

Cinder: “What did she say?”

Jane: “This table is just for sitting at to read these books. So I guess… either pick up a book and pretend to read, or go sit on the stairs?”

Cinder: “This place is so lame!”

24-Fish Medley

Ender doesn’t think so…

Guide 6: “No touching!”

…but then he neither understands nor probably hears any of the prohibitions. He sticks his fingers into the grooves of a blue whale mandible.

Ender: “This is so cool!”

Guide 7: “No…”

Jane: “I know, I know! No touching!”

Flora: “But why do they just put things on the floor and tables like that if they don’t want little kids to touch them?”

Cinder: “I guess so that all these people have jobs?”

He looks at the guides for the first time with vague interests.

Cinder: “They clearly don’t know how to do anything else. And if Ender wasn’t here touching stuff… they’d just sit in those chairs all day.”

Flora: “What are you saying?”

Cinder: “Tag! You’re it!”

24-weirdcollage2

II.

In Poland, during the post-World War II socialist experiment—Poles call it the 50-year Soviet occupation, by the way, and consider it more ruinous to the country than the six year war that preceded it, killed more than 20 per cent of Poland’s population, and left Warsaw with barely a building standing—the revenge of the occupied was pretty simple:

“We pretend to work. They pretend to pay us.”

III.

My cab driver today is a philosopher-entrepreneur-artist as well as tourist hustler. As we drive up La Rampa, thick with people on both sides—people walking, people sitting, people waiting—for what?—he says,

“There are always, always people here. Whenever I drive up this way, I wonder, ‘Why are all these people here? Doesn’t anybody in Cuba work?’”

Oh good. It’s not just me asking that question.

“So?” I ask. “Don’t they?”

He pauses.

“It’s difficult,” he says finally.

Implication: you wouldn’t understand.

But I do.

See, when you can’t buy bread (never mind eggs) on your way before work or after work, because it’s only ready at 1:30 p.m., and by 3:30 p.m. it will all be gone… you leave your job in the middle of the day for two hours to do your shopping. Or to spend two hours waiting in the queue at the post office to send a package, receive a package, get a money order. And everyone else you work with does the same thing. You all take turns at NOT working. You just do. You have to do that to feed your family today.

Everything else, work included, can wait.

Meanwhile… you wait.

Incessantly.

For everything.

You wait… for the grocery store to open. For the meat to be delivered to the grocery store. For the bank machine to get fixed. For the bus to come. You wait-wait-wait-wait…

That line –up there, I know, is for the famous Coppelia ice cream, but that one?

Jane: “Why are all those people waiting there?”

Driver: “The bank probably ran out of money.”

I believe it.

So. They wait…

Communism collapsed because people who have to wait in massive queues for life’s essentials DO NOT WORK, do not produce.

IV.

I am, at heart, more socialist than capitalist, but more than either, I am a creator and if I have a credo, it’s tied up in the belief that a meaningful life is productive life—define productive as you will.

Those young women at the Natural History Museum, who spend six hours a day sitting on their asses in chairs saying “No running! No touching!” offend me.

They offend me because I know that their job—what they do every day for a salary so miniscule it might as well not be paid—rots them.

They are essentially being paid to do nothing. They go to work… and they create, produce, contribute NOTHING.

24-reallyweirdpicture

V.

As we leave the museum, three women argue which one of them has to get out of her chair to return my bag to me. I don’t tip her.

Cinder: “Just to clarify, Mom, are you pissed off with us for playing tag in the museum?”

Jane: “No.”

I’m pissed off at a political-economic system that dismantles each of its ideals as it implements them. And also, the Americans. Always, the Americans. Just, you know, because. (Sure, the Russians too, why not.)

Cinder: “Good. That was fun. And now we know all we need to know about Cuban wildlife.”

Jane: “And what’s that?”

Cinder: “It consists mostly of stray cats and dogs, and the occasional free range chicken.”

True, dat.

24-Penis

*

With gratitude to all the people who make my work possible. Today’s post is brought to you by Janine Morigeau‘s almost-soundproof basement, Harold Cardona’s Snowball mike, and Sean Lindsay’s prowess with Adobe Audition. Thank you, my beautiful friends.

*

LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.

And if you like what you read/hear/see, please consider expressing your delight by becoming a patron of this project via PayPal:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

You: Why?

Jane: Because you’ve always wanted to be a patron of the arts, and you know that artists can’t pay for groceries with exposure.

You: How much?

Jane: Buy me a cup of coffee, a Cuba Libre, or a counterfeit Cuban cigar.

You: That’s all?

Jane: My avarice is happy to match your affluence. But I get $1 in royalties for each copy my other self sells of a traditionally published book. It is impossible to disappoint me.

If you would like to make a contribution, but have PayPal issues (I get it), please email me at nothingbythebook at gmail.com, and we’ll work something out.

Thank you!

“Jane”

NothingByTheBook.com / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

24-reallyweirdpicture

 

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #5

A conversation:

Cinder: What does humanitarian mean? Is it someone who eats only humans?

Sean: Um… what?

Cinder: You know, like vegetarian means someone who eats vegetables?

Sean: No. It’s someone who… cares a lot about humanity—about humans.

Cinder: Oh.

Pause.

Cinder: Well, that makes a lot more sense.

July 31, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. She’s going to tell you about the magic of shitty first drafts.

 

A writing exercise to do when you’re utterly stuck, kinda bored, and only have ten minutes:

Open a book, any book. Page 77. Sixth sentence. Got it? Type it into Google translator + copy it into your notebook. Translate into Japanese. Then copy the Japanese text. Translate it back into English. Copy it into your notebook. Don’t laugh. Repeat with Dutch. Repeat with another language. Repeat once, twice more.

Now… write a few paragraphs about the absurdity of translation…

 

An explanation:

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

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

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

House Rule #713, or, why we don’t host a lot of dinner parties

 (first published April 12, 2012)

Sean: Gaaah! My children are grossing me out!

Jane: What?

Sean: They’re playing with vermin! While I’m eating lunch!

Jane: Oh… Flora, do you have to change the meal worms’ bedding right now?

Flora: Yes. Because I’m supposed to do it every Sunday, and I didn’t have any Raisin Bran yesterday.

Cinder: Do the meal worms eat the raisins?

Flora: No, I’m picking out the raisins.

Sean: Didn’t you specifically tell me to buy the Raisin Bran?

Flora: Yes. The raisins are for me.

Jane: Ender! You can’t eat your turkey wrap if you’re playing with the meal worms. Here, give it to me.

Sean: New house rule. No eating while playing with vermin.

Cinder: Good one. How many does that make?

Jane: I don’t know. 713.

Cinder: Huh. I remember when we just had one.

Flora: Really? Which was was that?

Cinder: Pants at the table. Mom put it in place after the penis in scalding soup incident.

Jane: You remember that?

Cinder: Do you think I’ll ever forget?

Sean: Flora! There is a meal worm crawling towards my plate!

PS We have 24 meal worms–beetle larvae–living in our kitchen because a neighbour gave them to Flora. We’re getting him a kitten next week. Cause apparently that’s the new way we’re showing each other love in our neighbourhood. By giving our children pets. Patrick, you’ve been warned.

Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae)

Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thinking about doing…

This is me, standing at the kitchen sink, thinking about doing my laundry:

— no, of course I’m not going to post a picture, if I had, the caption would have to be, “This is me, taking a picture of myself standing at the kitchen sink, thinking about doing my laundry,” and that would have been just too meta for what I want to do –

…and, this is still me, standing at the stove, watching water boil, thinking about doing my laundry, and also, that I have clothes for at least two more days, maybe four if I ration and don’t spill anything on myself at meal time (could happen), and

— I’m also not posting a picture because, when I say, “This is me, standing at the kitchen sink, thinking about doing my laundry,” can you not see me, anyway? I bet you can—tell me, am I wearing grubby clothes, am I wrapped in a dressing gown, or am I dressed to kill? –

and I’m about to stop thinking about it and actually walk down the stairs into the basement and start DOING it – cross my heart – when Ender walks into the kitchen, so instead, I text Sean:

“Your son will not stop eating!”

and I boil a giant pot of noodles—wait for it to come to a boil—set the timer for eight minutes—and during those eight minutes, think about doing my laundry, draft this post, drink four sips of coffee, and

Ender: “These are very boring noodles. Aren’t you going to put anything in them?”

Jane: “No.”

I’m almost ready to go downstairs and sort the delicates from the “I don’t give a craps”—I rinse the pasta pot and the strainer, turn off the red hot element on the stove, remember my coffee, sit down, take a long luxurious sip, really, I could probably not do my laundry for five more days, and I’ll have gym stuff to wash on Thursday anyway, so is doing the laundry a necessity or a make-work project?

Ender: “I ate all my boring noodles. Is there more?”

Jane: “No.”

Ender: “Can you make more?”

Jane: “Here. Please eat this raw steak, and if you’re still hungry, fill up on cookies.”

This is me, in my bedroom, thinking about doing my laundry. The prognosis looks good: I’m actually looking at the laundry, and so I think if I manage to make myself sort it—actually even if I just dump it out on the floor—that might be the magic step that pushes it and me magically towards the washing machine. But I’m not quite there yet, I’m still resisting, because

Text from Sean: “Growth spurt? Or tapeworms?”

thinking about laundry and creating a story—painting with words, a portrait—of a woman standing at a kitchen sink thinking about doing her laundry

–can you not see her? She has bare feet, because she’s out of socks, but that’s okay, because she still has clean stockings, she’ll just wear those today instead, so does she really need to do that laundry?

is more interesting than, you know, engaging in the actual act.

Enough. I’m going to do it.

Jane: “Goddammit, who’s using the washing machine?”

Flora: “Me. Do you need it? I’ve got two loads to go.”

Jane: “You go right ahead.”

This is me, at the kitchen table, drinking hot coffee, writing about thinking about doing my laundry.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-thinking about laundry

Making the list, and Turkish coffee + an atheist’s prayer

I.

I’m making a cheese tortilla for one while brushing hay (don’t ask) out of the hair of the other while proofing a manuscript. The third starts making hot dogs, and soon there is mustard in the second’s hair and ketchup on my manuscript, and the first never gets his cheese tortilla because I burn it.

II.

I told you that story so you could find your own moral. Did you?

III.

We’re careening down Deerfoot, and traffic’s light, and I’m not swearing at anyone, and the kids are bubbly, and I’m totally rocking being mom, and not just because I’m about to drop the kids off with their auntie for an evening and a night and a morning, so I can just be writer for 18 hours (minus sleep), and then…

Flora: If you had to go to prison, what would you go for?

Jane: Homicide.

Damn straight I didn’t have to reflect. If I’m gonna do time, it’s going to be for the big one.

Silence does indeed speak volumes, by the way, and I become aware that the car is very, very silent. And Flora, who’s riding shotgun, is melting into the passenger side door. I peek into the rearview mirror. The boys haven’t climbed into the truck bed—but they look like the want to.

Jane: What?

Flora: We’re afraid.

Jane: Don’t worry. You’re not on my list.

IV.

I’m addicted, these days, to—

Sean: Shisha?

Jane: Um, that’ s not what I was going to write about…

—my own bastardized version of Turkish coffee and I want to tell you how I make it. Apparently, it’s all wrong—but if you don’t ask Google or the Turkish coffee purists, you’ll never know, and you’ll think it’s delicious. Ok, so: heat water in a pot. Add a heaping tablespoon of finely ground coffee (per cup) to the pot BEFORE it boils. Don’t stir—just let it sink. While waiting for it to sink, add a dried chile (experiment with a variety, I’m currently using mulato chiles), a few crushed cardamom pods, and cinnamon. (If you like it sweet, throw in a lump of sugar in there too).

Then stand over the stove and watch the pot come to an early boil—tiny tiny tiny bubbles, foam starting to rise—and lift it up off the burner. Hold it (smelling heaven) until the boiling-foaming action stops. Then repeat.

If you’re digging the process repeat again. And again. Especially the smelling heaven part…

Sean: I wish they could see the expression on your face.

Jane: Good thing you told them about it, then.

And that’s pretty much it. I strain it as I pour it into the cup, which is another bastardization, but, you know, I’m not much for rules. And then, I add cream with the highest fat content imaginable.

And then, I taste heaven…

You: Is it better than my homemade chai?

Jane: In the same class, my love. And it’s not a competition, ya’ goof.

Now, if you want to strip the above activity to its most minimalist brush strokes—I’m essentially watching water come to a boil. Again. And again. And again.

And then tasting heaven.

Even atheists find a way to pray, when they have to.

V.

Flora: You have a list?

Jane: What, don’t you?

VI.

I really, really, REALLY need to wash the kitchen and living room floor. And the stairs. And the bathroom.

I’m not gonna, not anytime soon.

But I’m starting to feel a little badly about their grubbiness.

Could you, would you come to my house and make my floors sparkle? I’ll make you soup—before you do the kitchen floor, I guess—and cover you with kisses, and write you a beautiful love letter.

Actually, I’m going to write you a beautiful love letter anyway. You don’t need to clean the kitchen floor.

Sean: Is this about me? Is that why I found a Pablo Neruda poem in my pocket yesterday?

Jane: Maybe…

Actually, it’s an open love letter. Can I do that?

Why not.

I can do anything. 😉

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-munchkin manuscript mustard

PS Yes, some hay does end up in the hot dogs. How did you know? But mentioning it in the first paragraph would have been overkill—you would have thought I was trying too hard.

PS2 They’re really not. On my list, I mean. And neither are you. We good? Okay.

Episode #405: Pre-holiday Smörgåsbord

I.

Ender is crying that his daddy is at work.

Flora: Daddy has to work a lot right now because we have to eat and Mommy’s writing another book, and books don’t pay nearly as well as corporate whoring.

It’s one of those moments when you (I) just don’t know when to laugh or cry, right?

I laugh.

Note to Self: deploy internal censor more often when speaking in front of the children. And instruct Flora to not use the term “corporate whoring” when talking to her friends. Better yet, perhaps, I should stop using the term in front of Flora. Children. People, period.

II.

Flora’s lost my car keys and is panicking. She can’t find them, and we can’t leave, and it’s all her fault, and tears, panic, self-hate, help mom… I find them, in five seconds, under her brother’s ice-skating helmet. Then deliver a lecture about how panicking is a useful response only if it gives you the adrenaline boost you need to run away from a predator but is absolutely useless when you need to strategize, i.e. retrace your steps and figure out…

Cinder: Not helping, Mom.

True. I know this. What am I doing? Never, ever deliver a lecture to a hysterical child. Instead:

Jane: Ok, everyone in the car. No, don’t turn the radio. We’re going to listen to Beethoven’s violin sonatas until Flora calms down.

Flora: I’m good.

Jane: I think you’re still upset.

Flora: Totally good. Perfect. In total control of self and over that whole car key incident. Radio?

I preen.

Cinder: Well played, Mom.

And when I really need to shut them up? Sufi meditation music. Oh-yes. I say, “I’m going to play The Passion of Rumi,” and the car falls COMPLETELY SILENT and they will DO ANYTHING I ask…

Caution for the beginners in the crowd: the secret to the efficacy of this technique is to NOT overuse it. Deploy sparingly.

(Apply the same rule to the use of obscenity, in writing and speaking. That’s a separate conversation I have with Cinder a few minutes later.)

III.

I’m trying very hard to practice loving communication, mindfulness, presence, compassion, and then, traffic…

Jane: Goddammit, bitch, get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-and-let-me-merge, what-da’-fuck-is-wrong-with-you?

Cinder: You’re kind of a terrible role model.

Sob.

I’d turn on The Passion of Rumi to punish myself but I’ve raised clever children; they won’t let me.

IV.

I’m burning supper, and the kids are pretending to be helping, and nobody’s doing the dishes, but there are enough clean plates left to set the table and Ender is really really hungry and getting really really annoying and…

Jane: Cinder, please, please, please do something to amuse your brother for five more minutes so I can get supper on the table?

Cinder: But of course. At your service, sir-yes-sir. Ender, come here. Come here ya’ little buttsack. Listen. ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, children turn dead if you hold them by the neck for a minute or two.’ Look, I’m a poet, just like Mom.

My proudest moment.

V.

Actually, maybe this was my proudest moment:

Cinder: Mom, Mom, Mom, you have to see this!

And he’s right. I HAD to see it. And so do you:

 
[youtube http://youtu.be/I776Ibj3iTs]

Word.

VI.

For the writers in the crowd: Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers via BrainPickings.org

For you: “When I count my blessings, I count you twice.”

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-405 anatomy of a good day

tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram @NothingByTheBook

Priorities, baby, priorities—or, “I don’t” as an answer to “How do you do it all?”

I finally figured it out, and so I’m going to tell you. You see…

Ender: “Mom! Where are you?”

…you’ve been asking me for years, “How do you do it?” What I thought you were asking was “How do you work and take care of your babies; how do you write and homeschool” and variants on the above…

Flora: “Moooom! Where are you? Ender wants you!”

…and I would tell you, and you’d get this glazed and confused and frightened look in your eyes, and never actually—so it seemed to me—hear anything I said—certainly in no way heed my unadvice. But I had this immense epiphany the other day…

Cinder: “Mooooom! I want to make cookies; where the hell is the margarine?”

…that is was my fault—I wasn’t telling you what you needed to know, because I wasn’t hearing what you were asking. You see, while I thought you were asking…

Flora: “Mom, Ender just stole my orange marker, tell him he has to give it back!”

Cinder: “Hey, Mom, can you wash the good cookie sheet? It’s covered with chicken grease.”

Ender: “It’s! Not! Fair!”

… while I thought you were asking, “How do you find the time to write and take care of the kids and take care of the house and exercise and have a life and, and, and,” what you were actually asking…

Flora: “Mom, Ender won’t leave me alone!”

Ender: “Mom, Cinder pinched me!”

Cinder: “Mom, the little bugger stole my Lego guys again!”

…what you were actually asking is…

Ender: “Maaaaaa…”

Jane: “Shut up, shut up, shut up! GET OUT OF HERE! Now! Outside! All of you! Give me 30 minutes, and then you can come talk to me. Now—out. OUT!”

Flora: “Mom, it’s like zero degrees out. And raining.”

Jane: “OUT!”

Cinder: “Maybe she just means out of the room.”

Jane: “OOOOOOUUUUUTTTTT!”

Ender: “But I’m hungry!”

Jane: “There are bananas and bagels in the kitchen. GET! OUT! AND STOP ASKING ME FOR SHIT! OUT! NOW!”

… what you were asking me was “How do I work (write) while interacting meaningfully with my children while making amazing dinners while keeping an immaculate house while pursuing my personal interests ALL AT THE SAME TIME.”

Yeah. So, the answer to that…

I DON’T.

YOU CAN’T.

YOU WON’T.

If you have this picture in your head of your laptop computer on the kitchen table, and you writing a novel—or, fuck, even a 1500 word article—while washing the dishes, peeling potatoes and teaching your children math and having a meaningful conversation with your lover…

Cinder: “Are you done yet? About that baking tray…”

Jane: “Clean it yourself or make chicken-flavoured cookies, I don’t care, leave me alone!”

Flora: “Is she done?”

Cinder: “No, she’s still pissy.”

Jane: “Writing! I’m still writing!”

Cinder: “Writing, pissy. It’s kind of the same thing.”

Jane: “Only when you interrupt me. NOW GO AWAY!”

…you are dooming yourself to failure, because all those “while’s” are impossible.

You know this intellectually, right? You can’t, oh—have a shower WHILE typing on your laptop. Make risotto WHILE scrubbing the kitchen floor. Paint a bedroom wall WHILE having sex.

So. You can’t write (work) WHILE interacting meaningfully with your children (or cleaning house or making supper or buying groceries or doing yoga or…)

Now, you CAN—I do—do most of these things sequentially, at different parts of the day-week-month.

But…

You will do some better than others.

And choosing to give time to some things will mean less time for others.

Priorities, baby.

Again, you know this, intellectually, right? But practically… you never seem to hear me. You know, like when I tell you what a crappy housekeeper I am, or that my children eat cucumbers and mustard as snacks when I’m on deadline? And you think I’m being funny?

The truth: say, I have two hours. In those two hours—I can write a story—edit a chapter—craft a rough draft of a pitch.

Or. I can make risotto.

(I don’t, by the way, know how to make risotto. But I understand it involves standing at a stove for an eternity, stirring a pot of rice. Fuck. That.)

Or. I can scrub the kitchen floor and the stairs. Or, do laundry or make the beds or declutter.

Or, read a chapter or two of Harry Potter or Hank the Cow Dog or Wow! Canada to the kids, teach Ender to read, help Cinder with his math…

These are all things that I should do, and do do at some point in a week (month… year… except that risotto thing, that’s just NEVER going to happen).

But if what I need to do—want to do—with those two hours is write a story… then I have to use those two hours to write the damn story.

And that may mean ensuring other-adult child care for my children.

Jane: “Moooom! I’m on deadline, can you please come and take the monsters AWAY for a while BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Or, leaving the house for two hours for an adjacent coffee shop, so that the house—“The fridge really needs cleaning today, Jane, it does, it does, clean me!”—doesn’t make its passive-aggressive demands on me.

And, picking up a roast chicken or frozen pizza from the grocery store on the way home instead of making the perfect, healthier pizza crust from scratch (this, by the way, I can do and I do do… just not on deadline days, y’know?).

I have become much better at this over the years. Accepting that my time and energy are limited—as are yours—and becoming better and better at channeling that time and energy into the things that are really important to me.

So. I write. Every day. (Really. Sometimes, utter crap. But. Every. Day.)

Read with my kids. Take them on amazing adventures. (Most days.)

Exercise religiously, no matter how urgent the deadline, because, health.

Make guilt-free time for my friends and loves and just for myself, too—but not so much for organizing the Tupperware drawer (or for people who drain me).

Scrub the kitchen floor only when it gets to THAT level of filthy—or I desperately need to procrastinate (sometimes, that happens).

Never, ever make risotto.

Cinder: “You done yet?”

Jane: “Two minutes.”

(I think, by the way, that if making risotto is an essential part of who you are and need to be, you will find a way to make risotto and write/work and take care of your kids and all those other things. You will maybe let something else slide more than I do. Read less, stir more. Stay home more—the stirring demands it—and skin your knees in the wild less.)

Priorities, baby.

Cinder: “Hurry. I didn’t scrub the tray that well, the chicken fat caught fire and I can’t turn off the smoke alarm.”

Jane: “Coming.”

Priorities.

You’re welcome.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-priorities

P.S. Speaking of priorities—I’m taking a sabbatical in October and November from Nothing By The Book while I pursue other priorities. Stay in touch via Instagram (@NothingByTheBook), and come back in December, will you? I promise I will be back.

Oh, and babes—I want to take my brood to Cuba, Mexico or some other hot-and-beachy place for (ready for this?) January, February, March 2016. If you’ve got a lead on affordable and cockroach-light accommodation (so long as we’re walking distance to a swimmable beach, we are not picky, and will co-habit even with pestilent insects), email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com.

“Jane” out.