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”

But I would drive 500 miles, and I would drive 500 more…

I.

Cinder, 13 (too grown up, not adult enough, don’t hurry, my love, stay a little boy longer, longer), wakes me up at 4:30 in the morning on a day on which I’ve set the alarm for 5:08 a.m. in anticipation of an eight-hour road trip. He has a sore throat, is sniffly, hasn’t slept all night, and it’s almost time to wake up, and he’s upset.

“I’m sick, is this going to ruin our trip to Kelowna?”

he asks, on the verge of tears (too grown up to dare to cry, not grown up enough to know that you never stop needing to). He’s been looking forward to this trip, counting down the days, for nine months—since the last one.

“Nothing is going to ruin our trip to Kelowna,”

I promise boldly.

“I’m going to dope you up and give you a bag of lozenges to suck on through the car ride. You will snooze and rest. And by the time you are on a beach with your friends, you will be fine.”

(Hey, sore throat and runny nose: We reject your reality and substitute our own.*)

603.2 kilometres, eight hours through the winding Rocky Mountain roads, three over-excited children, one under-slept driver.

“Jesus, Mom, are you stopping for coffee again? We’re never going to get there!”

“Do you want to live? If I don’t drink more coffee, we will really never get there.”

But we get there, we get there in record time, by 1 p.m., we are eating cake for lunch. The Posse is reunited, and my best girl and I are crying all over each other’s shoulders, and an hour later, seven kids are in Lake Okanagan, and two women are trying to say EVERYTHING to each other.

nbtb-500 miles

“How can you guys have so much to say to each other? You text every day!”

—that, from Flora, to me and Marie.

“How can you guys have missed each other so much? You Skype for hours every day!”

—that, from me to the Posse.

^^^And there, in an oversimplification that isn’t, you’ve got everything that’s wrong with cyber-tribes. They’re contact, connection… but they’re not enough.

II.

I can’t remember when I first met Marie. “Isn’t that funny?” I tell her. I do remember a handful of awkward first contacts, coffees, “playdates” (I fucking hate that phrase). I can’t quite remember, though, either what it was that drew me to her—nor the moment at which I realized we were friends, and life-long friends at that. (Neither one of us is particularly fond of strangers.) Maybe it was that her house, like mine, had a solidly “lived in,” messy look. That her kids were barefoot and always moving and even louder than mine (to be fair, there were more of them). Or that we could go together to the river for six, seven hours—and either talk for all six of those hours or be silent for most of the seven, and it was all good.

She taught me more about vulnerability and courage than any other human I’ve encountered on my journey so far.

III.

Stretched out in the hot sun while the kids play in the cold water, Marie and I talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, shoes, books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, ticks, fleas, “what do bed bug bites look like anyway?” (don’t ask) and how to get caterpillar gut stains out of white cotton (you can’t).

“Mooom! I’m hungry!”

“I’m bored!”

“Mom! He called me a…”

“They’re picking on me!”

“Mom, where’s my life jacket?”

“Mooooom, I need…”

nbtb-kids on raft

We feed them. Water them. Re-apply sunscreen. Deliver a lecture on big people taking care of little people, and on not being asses to each other, and then tell them to go the hell away. We have more talking to do.

IV.

She leaves me in charge of supper when she goes to work. I go all out:

nbtb-simple supper

Then, I work too:

nbtb-sleeping while i work

When she comes back, half the children are gaming, and the other half unconscious:**

nbtb-gamers and jumpers

(I mean sleeping. Really.)

(Half of seven is… well, I can’t chop one of them in half. You know what I mean. Fractions are not poetic.)

I pour wine. We talk some more. When the gamers interrupt us, looking for more snacks (“For goddsakke, do you guys NEVER stop eating?” “Never!” “Not true—we were just gaming for two hours with not a single snack break!”), we’re crying. Or laughing.

It’s hard to tell the difference.

Both are necessary.

V.

We’re still, by the way, texting. While she’s at work:

“Hey, the twins and Ender are riding skateboards in the house. Is that cool? What are your house rules around that?”

While she’s making sure the kids don’t drown and I’m getting coffee:

“If it’s not too late, honey in my cappuccino, k, babe? Oh, and remind me to tell ya what happened on Tuesday when…”

While I’m at the grocery store:

“For Chrissake, this is fucking British Columbia, why is there no local produce in this store?”

“Where are you?”

“Your local IGA.”

“Yeah, it sucks. You need to go to…”

VI.

We watch our kids love each other and love being with each other, and it makes us love them more—and each other more. “Do you think they will be friends, when they are 20? When they are 40?” she asks. We don’t know, of course.

But we do know we, Marie and I, are going to be friends when we’re 60. 78.*** I’m gonna give her rides on my Vespa scooter. She’s going to buy me costume jewelry at Value Village. We’re going to wear age-inappropriate bikinis on Okanagan beaches and talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, grandchildren, orthopedic shoes (can they be sexy? Or do we just need to stop trying?) and support stockings (oh, those varicose veins!), books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, people who look like their pets, dentures, people who piss us off (“maybe it’s her, maybe it’s too much Botox”), and whether lime green toe nail polish on your 76-year-old feet is a strike against ageism or a cry for help (“Independence, baby! Don’t you fucking dare tell me what I can or cannot do to my toes!”).

And when I’m too blind, to old to ride that Vespa, I’m gonna make my kids drive me that 603.2 kilometres… and they’re not going to ask why.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-girls on the town

FOOTNOTES (cause that’s how I roll)

*You may think I’m quoting Mythbusters’ Adam Savage here, but he’s actually quoting Paul Bradford in The Dungeon Master so there you have a quote within a quote within a quote…

**Aunt Augusta—you know Aunt Augusta, right? If you don’t, let me introduce you here: On yelling, authenticity, aspiration, and the usefulness of judgemental relatives-and-strangers—looks at this photo and pursues her lips.

“And you drove 603.2 km so they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype why, exactly?” she says.

“I drove 603.2 km so that they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype, exactly,” I smile. “Are you going to your bridge night tonight, Auntie? Yeah? Why, exactly?”

***I had my major life crisis at 38.5-39.2, from which I infer that I will shed this mortal coil at 77-78. I’m good with that. Right now, anyway.

And on that uplifting note, please enjoy this fabulous Proclaimers song:

 

Study in yellows

nbtb-study in yellows

I.

Jane: When I have my next mid-life crisis, I’m totally getting a Vespa scooter.

Flora: What did you do the last time you had a mid-life crisis?

Cinder: The less said about that the better.

I kind of agree, but I whack him on the head with my purse (not full of rocks) anyway.

Cinder: But you know, you won’t. You’ll do the math, and you’ll go on a trip instead.

Yeah. Probably. But on my trip—I’m gonna ride a Vespa scooter…

(In a garish, girly colour. Lime green. Hot pink. Sunshine yellow. Oh yeah.)

You: Not a Harley?

Me: Been her, over that.

II.

I’m working in a café, and there is a table of three women near me mapping out a strategy for their business. It will be immensely successful. Because of the youngest chica in the group, the most intense, most passionate, most dominant one.

Except… that youngest chica? The most intense, most talented one? I’m pretty sure she’s going to drop dead of a heart attack by 35. I want to prescribe meditation. Medication. Or a torrid love affair.

Maybe a Vespa. She looks like she’s due for an early mid-life crisis…

III.

Why, yes, I have decided that writing blog posts in very short Roman-numeral numbered verses is my new thing. I’m doing it for your ADD.

And perhaps, mine.

IV.

Ender: Mama-my-mama-mia-mama, FEED ME NOW!

Jane: Will! You! Stop! Yelling! At! Me!

Ender: I! Can’t! Help! It! When! I’m! Quiet! You! Don’t! Listen!

Fuck.

Busted.

V.

Sean: Does it count as date night if we’re both sitting next to each other at the kitchen table working on the same project on our two different laptops?

Jane: Yes. So long as we’re drinking wine, yes.

VI.

Have you ever noticed how, when you have so much work to do it’s overwhelming, paralyzing, and you’re pretty sure there is no way in hell you will ever get it done, instead of attacking it in small, manageable chunks, you kind of ignore the whole thing and decide THIS is the weekend to paint the kitchen?

No? Never mind then.

xoxo

“Jane”

“The child weaned from mother’s milk…”

I.

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.”

Rumi

Rumi’s translator, Coleman Barks, calls the poem that begins with these lines “Unmarked Boxes.” It resonates.

II.

Confession: I’ve just read my first parenting book in near a decade (see The Day I Stopped Reading Parenting Books): Anthony Wolf’s I’d Listen to My Parents If Only They’d Shut Up: What To Say And What Not To Say When Parenting Teens.

This is not, incidentally, a book review, but if it was, it would say, “It has good parts. It has bad parts. Read with a critical filter, take what’s useful, discard the rest.”

III.

I have a teenager now. I am still as much in love with him as I was with the newborn who woke me up every two hours. I will be more frustrated with him than I was with the toddler who pummeled everyone in sight… but that’s fine. That’s part of the package (It doesn’t get easier). My love for him has redefined how I understand, feel, experience love. Myself. The universe. I love him, unconditionally, and I will love him, unconditionally, until my experience of the universe ends.

Here’s something most parents don’t want to hear: he doesn’t love me unconditionally. No child loves a parent unconditionally. Meditate on that.

IV.

Whenever you tell me you love me. I think about what you might possibly feel for me, and what I think I feel for you, and compare it against what I feel for this child, for his siblings, and… if that is love, this is not.

You: Semantics. Always, with the fucking semantics.

Me: Words are important.

You: “What language does so spectacularly is lie, that silver-tongued projector of illusions.” That’s Coleman Barks, so you know it’s true.

Me: Fucking poets. Always telling the truth with their lies.

V.

That Rumi poem, the next line, it goes,

“God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box…”

(I was going to be a petty atheist and replace the first words with an ellipsis. But, I didn’t.)

I’m not sure about the metaphor. Is my son an unmarked box? Am I? Mostly, I am very literal—and there are still three unmarked boxes of loss in the space where I create.

VI.

I make my nocturnal teenager crepes and carry them up to his bedroom two hours short of his preferred waking time of noon.

Cinder: Best! Mother! Ever!

Jane: I know. Now wake up and get your sibs out of the house so I can work!

xoxo

“Jane”

photo (14)

P.S. Rumi, same poem: “I don’t want to make anyone fearful / Hear what’s behind what I say.”

Stumbling On Happiness: First, find a squished beetle…

NBTB-Stumbling on Happiness

So she writes and says, “You haven’t been funny in a while, whazzup?” And I get all defensive and spittle goes out the corners of my mouth—she’s so lucky she’s writing from far away and not sitting across from me. But then I think… haven’t I? Perhaps not. It’s probably Joan Didion’s fault. That, and too much poetry, not enough television. That’s it. Ok. Funny. Funny, funny, funny. I haven’t forgotten how to do funny. Here you go, love:

I.

So we’re walking down the street in the coolest ‘hood in YYC and they’re skipping and I’m skipping and all of a sudden Flora’s in tears, tears, tears, because—squished click beetle, so-very-dead, on the sidewalk.

Cinder: “Look! Another sign of spring!”

And that just makes it worse of course, tears, tears, what to say, wah, I don’t know, must say something, so I say…

Jane: “Sweetheart. Don’t cry. Someone will eat it and it will be part of…”

Flora: “Ugh! That is so gross!”

Cinder: “Betcha Ender will eat it.”

Ender: “Eat what?”

Cinder: “The dead beetle.”

Ender: “Mmmm… maybe?”

Jane: “I meant a bird or something! Not one of you!”

Flora: “Are you sure, Mom? Cause you’re kinda disgusting…”

And also, tricky. D’you see what I did there? Tears—gone.

Click beetle—not eaten by one of my children. But it’s not there when we walk back.

Jane: “See? Someone ate it.”

Cinder: “I bet it was that guy. Look—he’s a-chewing something…”

Ew, ew, ew.

Birds. I’m sure it was birds.

II.

Wow, I think that was it. I. Got. Nothing.

Too much poetry.

III.

yeah… nuthin. Nuthin, nuthin, nuthin funny coming out.

Sorry.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS I’ve just finished reading Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness—brilliant, get it, read it, devour it—and, here, have a joke on Dan:

Two psychologists walk into a bar. One says. “You’re fine. How am I?”

Funny? I don’t know. But this video by Gilbert is funny AND it will tell you why you keep on making choices that don’t make ya’ happy. It won’t tell you how to stop doing that… but, you know. He had to save something for the book:

Original Gilbert TED talk on TED

PS2 Actually, if you’re gonna read the book because you want to make better choices, let me save you some time: you’re kinda screwed, you’re not gonna… but at least you’ll know why. And it’s fatalistic. But if you’re not gonna read the book, at least read this: The Psychology of Your Future Self.

PS3 Why are you still here? Go get off your laptop or ‘fone, find a squished click beetle, stake it out, and see who eats it…

Days of the Week

I.

Yesterday was the day I wanted to brush Ender’s hair. (I do brush their hair, sometimes.)

Jane: Where the hell is the hairbrush? … OK, so I last brushed your hair, right here, in the middle of the living room. Um… what are the odds that I would have taken it back upstairs to the bathroom?

Cinder: Pretty much zero.

Flora: That doesn’t sounds like something you’d do.

Ender: Didn’t you throw it across the room because you got so mad at me?

We find it. In the Lego tub.

Jane: I definitely did not put it there.

Flora: Don’t look at me.

Cinder: It was probably Ender.

Ender: Sounds like something I would do. So Mom couldn’t find it.

II.

Today is the day that I explain to the children that reading a 700 page book of poetry backwards-and-at-random while listening to Leonard Cohen is something I NEED to do for WORK. IT’s WORK, dammit.

Flora: It. So. Is. Not.

Jane: Pretend it’s the Government of Canada’s Technical Guidance on Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions and LEAVE ME ALONE!

III.

Monday was the day I locked myself in my office (it’s a metaphor; I don’t actually have a door) (I don’t exactly have an office either) (but whatever, I make it work) (it works) (I work) (I write) with Philip Larkin, Mary Oliver, Anne Lamott and The Edge Foundation’s favourite maverick scientists* and then, for a while, abandoned them all for Sufi poets and philosophers. I sucked on the end of a fountain pen I was not using and threw chocolate wrappers at my computer screen, and called it work.

Intermittently, Sean brought me down food, coffee and chocolate.

He didn’t once ask—“Did you finish?”

Nor, “Did you start?”

IV.

Tomorrow is the day Stella’s mom looks after my children in the morning and afternoon and Baby M’s mom will look after Stella in the evening because that’s the way the web of a community works.

V.

Sunday is never a day of rest. But I stop moving, for a while. I have a bath in the dark, with Leonard Cohen.

Ender: Mom? Where are you? Mom? Come outside with me?

Jane: I’m in the bath. Not wearing any clothes. So, um… no.

Ender: Are you crying? Why are you crying?

Fact: You can’t listen to Leonard Cohen in the dark and not cry.

Fact: You can’t cry in front of your children FOR WHATEVER REASON and not freak them out.

Ender: Daaaaddddyyy! Mommy’s crying in the bathroom!

Sean: Um… Jane?

Jane: I’m fine. I’m listening to Leonard Cohen.

Sean: Wouldn’t you rather listen to some happier music?

Jane: No!

I turn on the lights, dry off, get dressed, and take Ender outside. I’m not done NOT moving yet. I lie on the brown, damp grass, soak up the sun.

VI.

Saturday was the day on which Flora slept over at Frederica’s house and Stella had a sleep-over with Ender, and we played Cards Against Humanity and laughed and when the night ended my lungs hurt and maybe, possibly I had broken a rib.

VII.

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. They blur and knock into each other and I try to find their rhythm and sometimes I do, but too often it eludes me. An email, phone call in the morning sabotages everything.

You: But you thrive on chaos, right?

Me: That story is running out of juice…

VIII.

Today or tomorrow or maybe yesterday, I will go for a walk with Rumi in my pocket and try to photograph the wind.

IX.

Cinder: What are we having for supper today?

Jane: Oh, fuck. Probably… food. What’s in the fridge?

Flora: Food. An assortment of food.

Jane: Good. Food. We’re having food for supper.

Flora: Some of it’s slimy.

Cinder: Don’t worry. If it’s gross, I’ll bake cookies after.

X.

Today’s the day everything happens, and tomorrow’s the day it all begins again. And I can’t quite remember what happened yesterday. Right. I wanted to brush Ender’s hair, and couldn’t find the hairbrush. But then did.

I have to go now. Leonard Cohen wants me to take another bath with him.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-days of the week

PS I now desire a Blue Raincoat.

*This Idea Must Die, edited by John Brockman (Harper Perennial 2015)

“Boys only want love if it’s torture…”

nbtb-boys only want love if its torture

I.

Snapshot: Flora and I are careening down Deerfoot, singing along to Taylor Swift’s Blank Space.

Now, you might infer from this that I like—the singer. Or the song.

Truth: I couldn’t care less. I live under a pop culture rock. I don’t think I could pick out Taylor Swift from a line up. And, thoroughly unmusical that I am, I can’t tell you whether the song’s good or bad. It just exists.

Fact: Flora, 10, LOVES it.

Truth: I LOVE her enjoyment of it. It thrills me.

I think: She loves that I love her loving it, and she’s thrilled that I’m singing along with her.

Truth: We love doing this silly loud thing TOGETHER.

Bonus: When we scream…

“Boys only want love if it’s torture
Don’t say I didn’t, I didn’t warn ya”

…the boy children in the back seat make puking-and-dying-noises.

Everyone’s happy. Win-win all around.

II.

Ender’s six-year-old friend Stella is staring with disapproval at Cinder, who’s standing on the kitchen table, in order to reach something way up on the wall.

Stella: Jane? I think you need to come up with some rules for your kids. Like, they shouldn’t stand on the table, and…

I actually have some rules. Such as… You must wear pants at the table—after the horrible penis-in-hot-soup incident—and no vermin at the table after the traumatic “I lost a mealworm… I think it’s in Daddy’s salad” incident.

And also: Do not make fun of things your siblings love. You don’t need to love Barney (gods know I don’t), because you’re a cool 12 year old, that’s fine. But don’t ruin your little brother’s enjoyment. Don’t mock it. Don’t dis it.

Say, “It’s not my thing.” “I don’t really enjoy that.” “Not to my taste.”

Not: “It’s stupid.” “It’s lame.” “I hate it.”

There are so many things my kids love to do that I really, really don’t enjoy.

Playing video games (any).

Watching iCarly.

Playing Munchkin.

Eating Jelly beans.

“Mom, will you play Battleship with me?”

“You know, sweetie, I don’t really enjoy that game. Could we play something else instead?”

But sometimes:

“Yes, I would love to watch iCarly with you. Tell me, who’s your favourite character? Why? Really? Why do you think she acts like that?”

(Just to be sure I’m not misrepresenting myself: Most of the time it’s—“I’d rather not.” But it’s never, “Why would you waste your time watching that stupid show?”)

(yes, sometimes… I really, really want to say that. But I don’t.)

III.

Flora: Are you watching Pride and Prejudice again?

Jane: No. Downton Abbey. It’s like Pride and Prejudice, except without the hot guy.

(Sorry. Dan Stevens can’t hold a candle to Colin Firth.)

Flora: Is it boring—I mean slow—like Pride and Prejudice? I mean, are there any murders and things in it?

Jane: Well… there’s deaths… but yeah, it’s pretty slow. I don’t think you’d like it right now.

Flora: Well, maybe when I get older I’ll like boring, I mean slow, stuff too and I’ll watch it with you.

Jane: I look forward to that.

Flora: Me too.

IV.

Jane: Boys only want love if it’s torture

Flora: Don’t say I didn’t, I didn’t warn ya

Cinder: Mooooooooom! Aaaaareeeee you trying to kill us?

Jane: No. Just torture you a little.

Cinder: It’s working! It’s working!

(It’s not necessarily that he hates the song. It might be that I’m a really bad singer. But you know. He won’t say THAT either.)

xoxo

“Jane”

 PS Want to sing along with us? Do:

It’s not negligent parenting. It’s sanity parenting

NBTB-Sanity Parenting

I.

Meet Stella. She’s six, and, for a few more weeks, an only child.

Stella: Eeeeeeender! You never share! You do not understand what sharing is! Sharing is when I want something, you GIVE IT TO ME!

So I pee myself laughing and text Stella’s mom. She ROLFs. “Is that my fault?” she asks. “Probably,” I tell her, because I’m a bitch.

II.

Stella: Ender wants to build a fort, but I don’t want to build a fort. I want to play Minecraft and Ender wants to watch Good Mythical Morning. We can’t agree on anything!

Jane: You guys are together for four hours today. I think you’ll have more fun if you find something you can agree on.

Stella: I’m not going to agree on anything TODAY!

Jane: Then I guess you’ll have a miserable day.

Stella: I! Will!

So here comes Flora, who can’t bear if anyone is determined to have a miserable day:

Flora: How about if you two…

And here comes the intercept by an un-helicopter mother:

Jane: Baby? This is so not your job or responsibility. You have things to do. If the littles do not want to play together, it is not your job to make them.

Flora: Is it yours?

Jane: Fuck, no. I have things to do too.

(20 minutes later, they’ve figured it out. Yes, there was screaming. But no blood. This time.)

III.

Stella: My mom is way nicer than you.

Jane: I know.

Stella: But you’re a way better cooker.

Ha. By the way, beloved, that’s because I feed them lemon meringue pie for lunch.

IV.

Today’s story does have a moral.

Do you see it?

If not, go meet he who became my new favourite love in the summer of 2014—and then come back, and read this piece again.

xoxo

“Jane”

“Love is disgusting.” But you knew that already.

nbtb-love is disgusting

I.

How I know he’s mine:

Jane: Cinder? Could you take out the recycling when your game’s over?

Cinder: Is it urgent?

Jane: Well… it’s not urgent right now, but the cupboard’s stuffed full and barely closing, and so next time someone opens it, all the recycling will flow out, screaming, “Freedom! Freedom!” and make a mess on the floor and…

Cinder: So how about, as soon as I hear it screaming, I take it out?

Jane: Ok. Works for me.

Cinder: Just so we understand each other—you’ll scream “Freedom! Freedom!” if you’re the one who opens the cupboard?

Jane: Yes.

Cinder: But you won’t do it on purpose. Only if you actually have to try to stuff something else in there.

Jane: Yes.

Cinder: Ok. Works for me.

II.

How I know she’s mine:

Flora: I can’t believe this. I! Can’t! Believe! This! The only likeable character in the book, and they kill him off—and there’s like a third of the book to go! What the hell? Who does that? What’s wrong with this writer? I am never, ever, EVER reading anything by this jerk again!

Jane: Where are you going?

Flora: I’m going to rewrite this chapter the way it should have been written!

III.

I don’t know where the hell he came from:

Ender: I! Love! Boogers! I! Love! My! Boogers! I! Love! Your! Boogers! I! Love! Everyone’s! Boogers! Sooooooo! Muuuuuuuch!

IV.

How they know they’re mine (even though they’re not):

Flora: He’s so disgusting.

Jane: It could be worse. When Cinder was his age? He used to feed you his boogers.

Flora: Jeezus, Mom, seriously? And you let him? What’s wrong with you?

Cinder: She didn’t let me. I mostly did it when she wasn’t looking. And only if you were awake.

Flora: That’s supposed to make me feel better?

Cinder: Well, at least I never puked on you, Ms Lazy Esophagus!

Flora: I didn’t… Mom? Did I puke on Cinder?

Jane: Yes. Kind of incessantly. Don’t feel bad. It’s very common. And he peed in your ear. So, you know. It all balances out.

Flora: Children are really disgusting. Like, the most disgusting thing ever. And that’s not even counting the bloody birthing part.

Jane: Pretty much.

Flora: But you’re happy you had us?

Jane: There is no meaning or purpose to my life without you.

V.

I’ve read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights last week, and it almost killed me. Listen:

“When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.

… Once she was born I was never not afraid.”

“A question: if we and our children could in fact see the other clear would the fear go away? Would the fear go away for both of us, or would the fear go away only for me?”

““You have your wonderful memories,” people would say later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. … Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”

“I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted.

In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment.

In fact they serve only make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”

“I do not know many people who think they have succeeded as parents. Those who do tend to cite the markers that indicate (their own) status in the world: the Standford degree, the Harvard MBA, the summer with the white-shoed law firm. Those of us less inclined to compliment ourselves on our parenting skills, in other words, most of us, recite rosaries of our failures, our neglects, our derelictions and delinquencies.”

“I tell you this true story just to prove that I can.”

I am changed.

VI.

They are loved.

They know they are loved.

Ender: Mooom! Hug! Kiss!

Cinder: Don’t do it, Mom! He was eating boogers!

Ender: I was not! I was only pretending. I was feeding them to Maggie.

Flora: Well, at least it wasn’t me.

Ender: Next time, I will share… My! Boogers! With! Yooooooooouuuuuuu!

Cinder: That’s my little bro! High-five, man!

Flora: Groooooosss! Moooooom!

Love. Disgusting, innit? 😉

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Of course he took out the recycling. Of course.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: There is such a thing as loving nature too much, or, more proof that children are disgusting.