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. 😉

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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.

NBTB-Not An Artist

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

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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.

*

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.

Productive artists

This week, I am pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy. I am all these conflicting, competing things and I am struggling to make my words perform the way they want to.

Flora: “I’m feeling so sad. I don’t know why!”

Me too, little flower,me too. I put an arm around her and suggest we go up to bed, watch an episode of Friends together—mind pap, not even brain candy, more like Pablum that used to be the marquee brand but has now been retired, gathering dust on a creaky shelf in an old warehouse. It’s well past its expiry date—no matter, today, we will eat it anyway, because it’s what we… well, not what we need. But what we want, right now.

We watch. But it’s not about the watching. It’s about the cuddling—the 22 minutes of togetherness and physical contact and presence. The show on the laptop ensures we can be together without words. Without me lecturing (or whining). Her justifying (trying to put into words what can be silence).

Flora’s little brother was evil today and I worry that I am raising a vandal, possibly, worse, the Anti-Christ, a destroyer of worlds. I’m probably not—but I worry. That’s what mothers do, you know. Worry, worry, worry.

Flora’s worried too. She’s going on a trip next week, to New York City! With her grandmother, without me. She’s excited.

But worried.

Why?

Flora: “I’m concerned it’s not going to be productive.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, whose sentiment is she echoing there? Not mine, or is it? (What she means, really, is “I’m worried I will miss you.” But she chooses those other words. They’re safer.) Her father strokes her hair and kisses the tip of her nose. “To an artist, every experience is productive, important,” he says. I smile. Idly wonder if I should interject, correct “to an artist” to “to a human.” We respect-recognize-value-nurture the artist within Flora so much, but maybe that’s as harmful as trying to squash it, suppose down the line, she decides she’s over this drawing thing and she wants to be a neurologist, shop keeper or construction worker? Are we limiting her with the label?

(mothers, worry, worry, worry, worry…)

Flora’s room, in its glorious messiness, artistic chaos is so beautiful to me. When I open the door and peek in there, I am flooded with joy and love—her room is evidence of her creativity, her freedom, her exploration of the world and of herself in an explosion of colour. It is her self, her soul made physical—the same way my the space-that-is-me-made-into-place is mine (or, I detour, the way my words are me? Are my words me? That’s another story to explore…)

We have been talking about rejigging the children’s rooms for some time now, doing, finally, the Canadian thing and giving them each a room. This week, trembling under the weight of deadlines, consumed with anxiety over “Why haven’t they gotten the mark up back to me yet!” (and also, “why haven’t they paid me, yet, again, oh, wait, they don’t do that anymore, it’s most cost-effective for them not to pay their writers, bastards, I really need to rethink my career NOW”), I channel the nervous energy into making that happen.

It’s a game of dominos—the old film production office on the flood plain transforms into a sanctuary for me and Sean (“But it’s so cold!” “Yeah, but it’s two stories away from the ears of the children!” “And the bathroom!” “Lover, it will be so good, you’ll see…”), Flora, taking over the big bedroom currently shared by the boys and their Lego, Cinder into the shoebox with the big window that’s currently Flora’s over-crowded room (“Roof access!” he proclaims gleefully. “If you abuse the roof access, I’m going to put bars on it,” I warn him. “No you won’t,” he retorts. “It’s our fire escape.” Busted, dammit, never make threats you can’t keep), and Ender inheriting the former family bedroom with the king size mattress he’s been peeing on since he’s been born.

(As we play the dominos necessary to effect the change, I am most excited that my future holds a mattress free of child urine. Yes, yes, yes, YES!)

“Why does Flora get the biggest room?” this from Ender, the third child who’s most sensitive to “not fair”—and says “not fair” even when things are perfectly equitable and reasonable; “not fair” means “I don’t like this.”

I want to say, first impulse, “Because she’s an artist,” but of course, he has an artist within too. So, instead, “Because she needs the space and the light. You and Daddy can use her studio sometimes to draw and paint in—that’s part of the deal.”

“Not fair,” the little vandal humphs and goes off in search of, what? Possibly a hammer, something to smash. To follow him, or to risk it? I follow. He goes to a bin of Lego, starts to create.

I sigh with relief, for the moment. Call for Cinder to help me move a dresser down two flights of stairs. He takes over the logistics of the operation. “As you’re still a little bigger, you’d better be at the bottom,” he instructs me. I look up at him–yeah, another inch, and he will be bigger than me, and I suspect he might already be stronger… “No, just one stair at a time at the top here, but at the third step, veer right and over…” We get the dresser—it’s actually an antique Chinese medicine cabinet, totally useless as a dresser, three pairs of socks fit in each drawer, and my bras barely, BUT I LOVE IT, it is so beautiful—down to the bottom floor without hammering any new holes in the wall. I feel very satisfied. Productive. Lifting heavy stuffy, moving shit from one room to another—when you’ve done it, you feel you’ve done something, accomplished something, right?

Changing three words in a perfectly good sentence to make it better… not quite the same oomph. Waiting for a response to your email, phone message? Utterly draining.

Pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy, I survey the chaos I’ve thrust my house into. The work’s not done yet, but my minions are exhausted. “Go play,” I command, and they scatter.

I text a witch to ask if she can come smudge, exorcise some of the 2013 anxiety from the flood plain-level ex-office, our new bedroom.

Do all the things. Then, drink wine with people I love. Sleep like the dead.

Wake up, still pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy. Which is good, because there’s still so much to do…

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-beakerhead 2015 intrude

A colourful life

I.

Pop culture rules, according to Flora:

“If you wanna be a pop star, you’ve got to have a rapper friend.”

I think she nailed it, don’t you?

II.

Agriculture, as Ender sees it:

“Wheat is the most important crop, because you need it to make cupcakes. Everyone should grow more cupcakes. And also, popsicles.”

Goddammit. When I wasn’t paying attention, I raised a proponent of the default agricultural-cultural hegemony. Where, oh-where, to start the deprogramming?

III.

Cinder wants to make my life more colourful:

Jane: “What! The! Hell! Did! You! Do! To! The! Toilet!”

Cinder: “I put red food colouring in the toilet tank. See?”

Jane: “OMFG. You’ve dyed the porcelain of our toilet pink.”

Cinder: “Really?”

Jane: “Really. Fuck. I don’t know if bleach will take it out. What were you thinking, baby?”

Cinder: “That it would be pretty?”

Well. That it is.

IV.

So, this just came out of my mouth:

“Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

No, I did not just give you an argument for the existence of God. Did I? Fuck. That was not my intent… What I meant was…

You know what? Do with that what you will. I have no control over what happens in your head… Indeed, I don’t understand what happens in there are all…

But that’s okay. I’m a mystery to you too, aren’t I?

Yet we both exist… 😉

V.

The six mantras of loving speech, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

  1. I am here for you.

  2. I know you are there, and I’m happy.

  3. I know you suffer, and that’s why I’m here for you.

  4. I suffer. Please help.

  5. This is a happy moment.

  6. You are partly right.

(The Art of Communicating)‎

VI.

Flora: “You’re going to blog about the pink toilet bowl, aren’t you?

Jane: “How can I not? But I gave you the lead, chickadee. Look.”

Flora: “Ooooh. Cool. Who are you going to close with?”

I think… with Hafez. Sort of.

VII.

This is for you. And you. And you. And her, the one hiding over there, her too:

Those kisses you sent, I found them wandering
around the house. They were acting a little
lost, not knowing exactly where I was.

I was busy upstairs. But now we are all having
tea and talking about you, and wishing you
were here.

And they imparted all you intended. They did
well.

One more thing: I have seen you at your best
and at your worst; still you are always welcome
near me.

Daniel Ladinsky, channeling Hafez

xoxo

“Jane”

photo (71)

Photo: Pimping our ride for Beakerhead (also, messy hands from another art project)! If you live in yyc and environs, you’re Beakerheading this week, right? Right.

Read my mind, Part II

I promised to tell you, didn’t I? And I usually keep my promises. (Except when I can’t.)

So.

I cook the way I write. It’s true. I invite her into the kitchen to watch, and you can too. Just stay out of my way and don’t ask any questions.

It goes like this:

I walk into the kitchen. I don’t do the dishes, I don’t wash the kitchen floor.* I shove the crap on the table and counters towards the back to make some space. I open the fridge. There’s nothing, nothing.

A limp carrot.

A can of coconut milk, half-used.

A bag of… what the fuck was that? Cauliflower?

Flora: Mooom! You’re not going to make us eat that, are you?

Jane: I was thinking about it. I hate wasting food.

Cinder: Mooom! Sometimes, you’ve just got to let things go.

It’s true. And it’s a metaphor, too: some things belong in the pot (on the page) and some, even though they’re there… you’ve got to junk.

The bag of cauliflower (maybe? maybe something else? sweet potatoes?) goes into the garbage.

I take my favourite cast iron pot and scrub it clean—what I’m going to do is, I’m going to toss some rice (sushi) and lentils (red) into its bottom, add a beef bone and the carrot…

Actually, I think there’s some frozen chicken thighs in the freezer, yah? Yah! OK. Keep the beef bone? Maybe… Fuck, yes, lemon grass! And in the fridge—was not there a container of left-over bananas-and-peaches-baked-with-maple-syrup-so-good-but-not-as-good-as-when-they-were-hot?

I see… possibility.

Flora: You could go to Safeway and get some groceries.

I could. But that’s a minimum 45 minutes out of my day, and a 45 minute delay on getting supper on the table, and 45 minutes spent doing something that’s really unnecessary if I just work with what I have.**

I’m thinking… Caribbean-Thai fusion. Something like that. Maybe.

I reach for the cast iron pot… mmm, but not in the pot. Is there a pan? There is. Layer, sprinkle—oh yeah, toss in the gnocchi that we’re not going to finish otherwise, why not—and cover with aluminum foil.

Into the oven.

Cinder: What are we having for supper? I thought you were making slop in a pot.

Jane: It’s now slop in a pan.

Cinder: Lasagna?

Jane: Sort of. Except without the noodles, tomato sauce and cheese.

Flora: Is it going to be good?

Jane: I hope so. We won’t know until we taste it.***

*

Interlude: there’s a freak crazy hail storm, the alley floods and the power goes out. Fortunately, the slop in a pan has been in a hot stove for a few hours; the stove holds the heat. When, storm triage is done and we know we’re not going to flood, I put it on the table.

*

Cinder: Wow, this is really good.

Flora: Mmmm… interesting. A little weird. Not quite what I expected. But, edible. Definitely edible.

Sean: This is the best thing you’ve ever made, OMFG, it is so delicious, can I have thirds?

(He’s my target audience, by the way. Nailed it.)

Ender: This is disgusting. Can I have a margarine sandwich?

(He’s not my target audience. And I know this, so it doesn’t hurt. Much.)

As I spread margarine on rye bread for the ungrateful child, Sean suggests that “I don’t really like it” or “It’s not for my taste buds yet” might be better ways of expressing a culinary opinion. Ender shrugs. Bites into the effort-free, uncreative margarine sandwich, devours it, thrilled.

Sean: Do you ever think we should just feed them buttered bread for supper every day?

Jane: Sometimes. But. You know.

He reads my mind. Nods.

And… yeah. That’s how I cook.

That’s pretty much how I write.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I’ve just had an idea for something I could do with that bag of (was it?) cauliflower. Not the one I threw in the garbage—even I have limits. The metaphorical one. The piece I cut from the last piece I wrote? Yeah. Wrong ingredient for that. But I think… if I use it like this… Yes.

Possibilities.

NBTB-read my mind 2

xoxo

“Jane”

*

**

*** … I was going to make these metaphors explicit. But I don’t need to, do I? Not for you. Read my mind.

Read my mind, Part I

I.

Client: What I want you to do is, well—I want you to read my mind and to deliver a product that’s exactly what I need and want it to be—without me having to tell you what it is that I want and need. Got it? I don’t actually want to take the time to give you instructions, to explain to you what I want.

Jane: Yeah… that’s not gonna work.

II.

Sean: Love, but the problem is, you don’t want to tell me what you need and want. You want me to read your mind.

Jane: What’s so fucking hard about that?

Why I love him: he heard that first conversation. And he doesn’t call me a hypocrite.

III.

You: I would really love to watch you write.

Jane: Yeah… watching a writer write is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Flora: Not! True! She makes the most amusing, the most horrible faces.

Cinder: And sometimes, if you time it just right—if, at just the right moment, you say, “Mom! Where’s the charger for the iPad?” or “Mooooom! I’m hungry!”—she channels Cthulhu. And. It’s. Awesome.

The goddamn bums. Did you catch that? They. Do. It. On. Purpose.

Oh, for a room of her own… with a lock on the door.

(Soundproof, too…)

IV.

I can read Ender’s mind. Totally.

Jane: Don’t even think about it.

Ender: But…

Jane: No!

Ender: Come on!

Jane: No! Way!

Ender: Humph. Fine.

He stalks off. I dial.

Jane: Hi, Ender’s on his way to your house. Whatever he asks—I already said no.

Her: K. Good to know.

It takes a village, don’t you know.

V.

Client: This isn’t at all what I had in mind.

Jane: Good. Now I have a little more information. I still don’t know what you want. But I have a better idea of what you don’t want. Let’s talk about what, specifically, you don’t like about this.

Client: I don’t know. It just doesn’t speak to me. It doesn’t pop. Make it… snappier. More… you know… more… something or other, you know? Like this… but different.

Jane: You’re fired.

*

Interlude: A neighbourhood cat wanders into my basement office while I write. Sniffs around. Possibly pees in the laundry room.

*

VI.

You can’t watch me write, lover. But next week, I’ll tell you how I cook. It’s like writing… but different.

nbtb-read my mind 1

xoxo

“Jane”

Roadkill

I.

The car in front of us hits a jaywalking squirrel and as I swerve to not roll over the destroyed, twitching little body, Flora bursts into tears.

“Can we stop, can we save it?”

There is nothing to save; it is too dangerous to stop. I shake my head. She weeps all the way to the library. I reach out and hold her hand and let tears well up in my eyes.

(The mother I was two years ago, would have told her to control herself, to get a grip, to stop.)

II.

It’s 8:30 p.m., and the sun is low even here, and so the lake beach is deserted and the lake water, never warm, freezing cold. Flora and I are swimming through it, to the floating dock. There was a dead fish floating there earlier that she really, really wanted to examine… I promised we’d come back when all the other children—who were so grossed out by her zoologist’s desire to see what the fish was, how it died, where its wounds were they screeched and screamed and called for their parents—were gone.

The children are gone, and so is the fish.

Flora, disappointed, lets tears come. Then lets them dry up. We swim through the cold water, back to the shore.

(That’s the mother I want to be: the kind who goes back to the beach at sunset and swims through ice cold water to look for a dead fish with my child. Write that on my tombstone.)

III.

I can’t remember why they start planning my funeral, exactly—Flora and Cinder, I mean. I think it’s because we’re talking about the suicides of various famous people, and of course that naturally segues to burials and funeral rites and wakes, and I say how I really don’t want to have a funeral, but I realize it’s not about me—I’ll be dead, what do I care—it’s about the other people. And Flora, party planner extra-ordinaire, says,

“We’ll make it a big, big party! Who do you want to invite?”

“I don’t fucking care; I’ll be dead. All the people who want to come: all the people who love me.”

“We should invite all the people who hate you too; they’ll be really happy to dance at your funeral. Do you keep a list of those?”

I don’t. But apparently, I should, for my funeral.

Cinder prepares the song list. He’s going to lead with “Highway to Hell.” Follow up with “Staying Alive.”

Flora adds “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” (“Especially if you’re murdered,” she says. WTF? I think.) Also, the Barenaked Ladies’ “Big Bang Theory Theme Song.” She pauses. “We end with Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ It’ll be kind of ironic, get it?”

I suggest the “Macarena” instead. They don’t get it.

(The human I want to be doesn’t want to be afraid of dying. And I don’t think, if I lead the full life I want to lead, I will be. Will I? So hard to know what will be. Hard enough to be aware, appreciative of what is.)

IV.

Ender’s favourite bedtime book right now is I’m A Seed, written by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by  Judith Moffatt.

“How many books are you going to read me tonight, Mama?”

he asks. I consult the level of exhaustion in my body.

“Four.”

I say.

He asks me to read I’m A Seed four times.

I raise my eyebrows. Feel “No” and rebellion rising in my chest, and then pause. What is the difference between reading the one book I’ve already read him dozens of times four times tonight… and reading four books I’ve already read him dozens of times?”

I read:

“I’m a seed!”

“Me too!”

Four times. Treat it as meditation.

(That’s the mother-human I always aspire to be; too often fail. Today, I achieve. Kiss his sweaty head as he falls asleep. Realize I’ve forgotten to brush his teeth. Fuck.)

V.

“Mom? Are you still thinking about the dead squirrel?”

No. Not even a little bit. But that’s not what she wants to hear.

“Mmmm. You?”

“Yes.”

I hold her tight.

nbtb-roadkill

xoxo

“Jane”

Vices, Heaven

I.

I have this neighbour who only ever sees me when I’m loading my kids into the car. Three out of four times, I’m yelling at them. Example:

Jane: It. Is. 11. A. M. And. I. Am. Already. Sick. Of. You. Will. You. Stop. Fighting. Before. I. Go. Raving. Mad?

I suppose she thinks I’m a terrible mother.

I think I’m providing a public service. No matter how bad her day goes, her Super-Ego can reassure her Ego by whispering to it,

“Well, at least you didn’t call your children fucking assholes this morning…”

(I didn’t actually call them fucking assholes, but the phrase was strongly inferred in the yelling. And yes. I thought it.)

II.

Jane: Your job, now, is to look out for a coffee shop. Starbucks, Second Cup, Tim Horton’s, I don’t care—I need to be caffenaited. NOW.

Cinder: You know, Mom, you’re not supposed to drink coffee after 10 a.m.

Jane: Do you want me to yell at you again? Find me a coffee shop, now. Starbucks! Yes! Wait here. Don’t drive away. Don’t let anyone steal the car. If the dog jumps out through the window, don’t follow her. I’ll be right back.

Flora: Mom? Have you ever thought that you might have a problem?

Yes. Yes, I have. But you know what? I only have three vices right now, and this is the least troublesome one of them. Caffenaite me. Now.

III.

Hell is being trapped in a car in traffic while three children sing “What does the fox say.”

IV.

Heaven is this rocky river bank I know. Bald eagles and ospreys fly overhead, the water is fucking cold but blissful. The children roam free, and there are no other people.

The bitch of it is—to get to heaven, you have to first endure hell.

NBTB-VICES HEAVEN

V.

A stranger wanders by.

Stranger: Having a good day?

Jane: No, not really.

FYI: pretty much the best way to get a person to walk away from you as quickly as their knobbly legs can carry them.

VI.

Flora: Feeling better, Mom?

Jane: Gods, yeah. Thanks, babe. But that doesn’t mean you guys can start acting like little jerks again.

Flora: No, we’re all feeling better too.

We have lemon meringue pie for dinner. Then lazy sushi* for dessert.

VII.

On the way home, after I stop to pick up the lemon meringue pie and cucumbers for the sushi, I swing by the liquor store.

Cinder: Jeesus, Mom, how much wine are you planning to drink tonight?

Jane: That all depends on you.

I’m joking. Really. A glass, maybe two with dinner. That is not one of my vices. Although, between June 22, 2013 and June 21, 2014, it was definitely one of my more common, yet least effective coping techniques.

VIII.

Flora: I wish I understood Ender’s fascination with dog’s butts.

Cinder: I can explain it to you.

Jane: Please wait until I’m out of the room…

IX.

Exhausted, Ender falls asleep on the couch. Excited, Flora packs her lunch for camp.

Jane: What do you want to do, Cinders?

Cinder: Take over the world with Paul and Sam.

Jane: Go to it.

Cinder: What are you going to do?

Jane: Come up with creative excuses not to work.

Cinder: Go to it.

I do.

X.

I actually kind of feel like working. Magic combination of afternoon coffee + wine with supper + chocolate for dessert for the win.

xoxo

“Jane”

19.7.2015

P.S. Lazy sushi: Make rice. Shred carrot. Cut a cucumber into long pieces. Ditto avocado. Put basil, cilantro or something like that on a plate. Shred crab meat or left-over chicken. Cut seaweed paper into squares. Put everything on the table. Have everyone make their own sushi cones or maki rolls. It’s like tacos… but different.

Anarchy, not

I.

So. This happens:

Cinder: Mom! The light in the bathroom burned out!

Jane: I know!

Cinder: Are you going to put in a new bulb?

Jane: Well, I was thinking about it, but the bathroom was getting really grodie, to that “I need to clean it or the world will end” state, and I was starting to feel bad about it, like I should maybe, you know, clean it, but now that it’s dark in there, I don’t feel that way, so now I can get back to that “OMFG-it’s-finished-it’s-almost finished” project and…

Flora: Oh-my-god-mom-you’re-insane. Where are the bulbs?

Jane: Home Depot.

Flora: We have no spare light bulbs in the house?

Jane: Well, they were in the basement, but then there was that flood thing…

Flora: That was two years ago.

Cinder: Are you saying you’re not going to put a new bulb in the bathroom? Do you expect me to pee in the dark?

Jane: Entitled child, how hard is it to get your pee into the toilet? Leave the door open!

Flora: Mom! You have two sons!

Cinder: You will regret this.

Fuck. I will. I know.

Fortunately, when their father comes home and notices the bathroom light’s burned out, he just changes it. Without fanfare, drama.

II.

“everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus”

The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection

III.

I am too practical-cynical-critical and insufficiently romantic to be an anarchist. But I enjoyed reading J. Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2014) enormously.

IV.

Sean: Are you going to write about the end of the nuclear family again? Cause that always makes me twitchy.

Jane: No, not the end…

V.

The thing is, what’s inane/sad about the family nucleus is that it’s NOT ENOUGH. It needs to be one part of the web of the relationships that support parents, children. Not the end-all, be-all.

The beginning? The centre? I’m not even sure about that. Because it isn’t the beginning, unless you reject/lose where you—the adults—come from… And the centre? Sometimes, maybe.

And sometimes, not.

And throughout: it’s not enough to have just one other adult watching your back, providing you with support—define support as you will, emotional, physical, financial, other. I know you despise clichés, Internet memes and tried-and-truisms as much as I do… but…

 

You: Are you going to say ‘It takes a village’ again? Cause I’m gonna vomit if you do.

Me: At this moment, I don’t think even a village is enough. It takes an entire society, culture. Think about it. Everything is related, interdependent…

VI.

“Mutual aid or mutual protection or new notions of exchange actually flourish already in the worlds we inhabit and those we are making as we go—open-source exchanges on the Web, cooperative food collectives, subcultures, new modes of kinship, and different understandings of our mutual responsibilities exist already for the purpose of exchange and not profit, and this motion of working with others rather than in competition is probably the only thing that will save us from the greed of free-market economies.”

Jack Halberstam,
Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal

VII.

You: You’re incoherent, and just kind of babbling.

Me: I know. I have too many thoughts in my head, and I can’t exert any kind of discipline upon them at the moment.

You: How almost anarchistic of you.

Me: Shut up and let me free-form.

VIII.

Cinder: Mom? Can we turn on the sprinkler in the back?

Jane: No!

Cinder: Why not? It’s like 100 degrees Celsius!

It’s not. It’s only 33. Still. For a Northern Hemisphere human: boiling hot.

Jane: Because you will turn the weed patch into a mud pit, get filthy, and then need baths, and I’ll have to clean the bathroom!

Cinder: You said it was so grodie you had to clean it anyway!

Point. Sigh.

I text Sean: Why, why, why did you have to put a new light bulb in the bathroom?

Sean: You’re welcome?

Jane: Sob.

Sean: Are you ok? Is your work not going well? I thought you were at the “OMFG-it’s-finished-it’s-almost-finished” stage?

Jane: But then you fixed the light in the bathroom.

See? EVERYTHING is connected.

IX.

There is a mud pit in my backyard, my bathroom is still filthy, I’m proofing that “OMFG-I-think-it’s-finished” project, and I’m planning a party.

I think I’ll clean the bathroom for that. Actually…

Jane: Hey, Flora? Wanna make $20?

Flora: Does it involve taking care of Ender while you write?

Jane: No…

Flora: Let’s talk.

Tapping into the greed of free-market economies for the win…

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-anarchy not

Difficult-awkward-flow

nbtb-difficult-awkward-flow

I.

Sometimes, I do this: stroke into stroke into letter into letter into word into word into sentence and another one and look, there’s a paragraph, and then, what?

There is a book, by Stanely Eugene Fish, called, How To Write A Sentence. It is an academic book, a critical analytical reader’s book, a lover of words book, but not a writer’s book. No writer should ever read it.

Flora: “Whatcha doing, Mom?”

Jane: “I’m writing about writing.”

Flora: “Is that as pointless as reading about reading?”

Jane: “Pretty much.”

But I’m doing it because in this moment, writing about anything else is too difficult.

II.

I’m at this conference thing, and there’s a break, and the room naturally, inevitably divides into editors and writers. The editors are talking about participles and dangling modifiers.

The writers don’t actually know what any of those words mean.

That’s why we have editors.

III.

Jane: “Why! Are! You! Guys! So! Evil!”

Cinder: “It’s not our fault, Mom. It’s the way we were raised.”

Flora: “They fuck you up, your Mom and Dad.”

Ender: “I! Am! The! Most! Evil! Thing! In! The! World!”

IV.

Stroke into stroke into letter into word into sentence… it’s called practice, perseverance. It becomes chasing flow. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t—there is only word after word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, oh, fuck, look, 500 words, 1400 words, it’s done. It’s not good. But it’s done. (The editors will make it better. Sometimes, even good.)

You can’t explain that to the people who say “Oh, I just love to write.” See, because they stop as soon as it’s difficult.

V.

I used to procrastinate by cleaning house, did I ever tell you that? My mom or Sean would take the kids out, I’d sit at the computer, the words wouldn’t come, and I’d get on my hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor until it shone. Clean baseboards. That awkward-to-reach place in the bathroom.

I don’t do that anymore. I chase flow. The kitchen floor be damned.

Sean: “You’ve noticed I clean the kitchen floor now, right?”

Jane: “Um… sure, baby. Yes. Thank you so much.”

Jane: “Um… do you ever clean that awkward-to-reach place in the bathroom?”

Sean: “There’s an awkward-to-reach place in the bathroom?”

Yeah… I wonder what’s growing there…

But not enough to check.

xoxo,

“Jane”