Jane does Disney like this: no mouse, no rides, a hell of a lot of angst

November 1, Friday

I’m going to Disneyland!

Well, actually, I’m not. My son and his cousin are being taken to Disneyland by their grandma. I’m coming along for the ride and for support. I’m not going to the parks.

I’m going to write and revise and relax. And maybe play.

I am two scenes short of finishing something I didn’t even know I was writing. Perhaps I will finish it on the plane.

I don’t. The day is too fractured.

November 2, Saturday

The boys and Grandma do Disneyland. I go to the Walmart Super Centre to get them food and other supplies, and then I do downtown Anaheim, nominally looking for a writing spot. But about 15 minutes into the adventure, I decide, no, not today. Today, I fill the well and look at pretty things. Hello, honey. What? Really? Absolutely, take me there, show me.

Tomorrow, I write.

November 3, Sunday, 3 p.m.

I write. Intermittently. I need to do a Walmart run, and on the way, I meet a Syrian immigrant who runs a cigar shop, and I share a cigarillo with him in the smoking room he created in his parking lot. Listen to his story.

Back at the hotel, I write the penultimate scene in the [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title] trilogy by the pool. It’s not very good. It was supposed to be the last scene, and I know it doesn’t do the job. Something else is needed. I feel it shaping in the back of my mind and close my eyes for a moment. Listen to Ender and his cousin splash and shout.

Ok. Yes. That makes more sense; of course, it can’t end like this. But this ultimate scene, the final, trilogy-closing scene? I can’t write it yet. Next, step, go back to the beginning. Revise Episode 1. Episode 2. Episode 3. Then revise some more.

I fucking love revising.

Neil Gaiman has a line in one of his speeches where he says something like, “The second draft is where you make it look like you knew what you were doing in draft one.” Wise man.

Ender’s cousin, dripping wet, peers over my shoulder at my Scrivener document. He’s a good reader, but my font is too small and there are too many words on the page for him to really follow. Thank god. His aunt has a filthy mind, and I’d rather he learnt all those words and concepts in the school yard. I mean, from my brother.

“Are you making another book?” he asks. I nod. He thinks it’s pretty cool for two seconds, then goes back to the pool.

I close the Scrivener document—then open it, export the file to Word. Repeat the process for Episode 1 and 2. Email all three to all of my email addresses. My back-up. I am, after all, working by the pool…

November 4, Monday, 9:24 p.m.

Alice, my San Francisco-dwelling friend, is flying in to see me while I’m in Anaheim, and she’s en route from LAX to my hotel. We haven’t seen each other in more than a year—near a year and a half. We’re going to paint this boring-ass town—and Anaheim, bar Disneyland, is boring as fuck—all the colours of the rainbow. I keep on asking the Uber drivers and baristas I encounter what the locals here do for fun, and apparently, it’s nothing. They go to the Packing District—which is very cool, but it’s one building, people.

“Well, and we go to LA,” one says.

But I don’t want to spend 40-75 minutes in shitty Southern California traffic. So. Anaheim. Coffee shops and hookah bars—of course, I find them all—and maybe a trip to the beach. It doesn’t really matter. We have a hundred conversations to share that cannot be had over text.

My two days with Alice are cutting into my writing and revising time on this trilogy that, three weeks ago, I didn’t even know I was writing. But that’s ok. Because last week, I was averaging 5,000 words a day so that I’d be done the first draft of the final episode/novella by the time Alice arrived. Not working now was part of the plan.

Um. Yeah. So, you know how three weeks ago, I wasn’t writing?

Apparently, I was. I just didn’t notice.

I remember starting the novella that is now Episode 1 of [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title]. Flora’s health issues, which had started to manifest in the fall of 2018, and started to unravel and spiral out of control that December, meant that by January, I had pressed PAUSE on my big projects. In February, as an attempt at self-care (I wish I could explain this to the family therapist, but I’ve given up on making her understand anything), I decided to try to write a short story. I wrote it in 15-minute increments through February. Perhaps the first week of March. Then. hospital, hell.

Let’s not talk about April.

Then, Wales. We can talk about Wales. (You can read about Wales in Kick Like a Girl).

I didn’t write in May, but knew, by June, I had to do something. I couldn’t go back to the story I was writing in February. Also, it was bad. I didn’t bother to re-read it, but I remembered very clearly, it was bad, and it didn’t go anywhere, and I hated it. How could I not hate it? I wrote it in hell.

I started a new, different short story. Just to have something to write. I gave it the same setting at the last one. Might as well salvage something from that disaster, I thought.

Fifteen minute increments. Very little engagement or passion. I felt that second story was very, very bad too.

And what was the point of all that writing, anyhow? I put it aside.

Spent the next few weeks trying to get back into the projects I set aside in December 2018. Still felt too stupid to face them.

(I don’t care what the therapist says: this isn’t negative self-talk. It’s a statement of fact. Trauma takes its toll on mental acuity, and pretending that it doesn’t is… stupid.)

Then, the Banff Investigative Journalism Intensive. You know what happened there. (If you don’t, you can read about it in Heaven Hangover.)

Then, post-heaven crash. Therapist. My identification of the problem: I’m not writing, and this is making me so unhappy, I want to die.

No hyperbole, by the way.

Solution: write, girl. Write shit. Write badly. Write unpublishable, unsellable crap. Write something. Get to the end of something. Start something—more importantly, finish something.

Well—there’s that story. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as I thought as it was. It’s not great. But. It has potential. Grit teeth.

Write.

Two days to finish [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title] Story 2.

Instant realization that if Story 1 is only as bad as Story 2, I can probably save it, and then I have two-thirds of a trilogy.

A week to resuscitate and save Story 1.

Decision to write Story 3 at a pace of 5,000 words a day over a week. To show myself I can.

Write shit, write badly, write to finish, write to show yourself you can still do it.

Bam. Fucking done.

(The therapist is still nattering on about balance, and, I don’t know, people. I’m thinking, I fixed my own problem by ignoring all her advice, gritting my teeth, and making myself write to a self-imposed deadline. But I’ll give her credit for creating the space for me in which I could articulate this need to myself.)

(Ok, I haven’t actually seen the therapist recently. She’s still nattering in my head. At least I’m not paying her for that monologue).

Alice texts. “In the lobby.”

“Coming.”

November 5, Tuesday

Yesterday, Alice and I spend some time in a fantasy treehouse (long story) and end up reading Tarot cards at a hookah place—you know it, that’s where I end up when I need a home base. Also, she made me cry. Self-awareness fucking sucks people; I don’t know why all these New Age prophets have so many disciples.

Today is beach day. Coffee and breakfast at Seal Beach, a long walk along Sunset Beach, lunch, ice cream, and then a cigar break at Huntington Beach. We’re talking—and Alice makes me cry again, and it feels awful, but, you know, that’s me now, really. Then she makes herself cry. We agree it’s all part of the processing process—I don’t call it healing, because a) ugh and b) definitely not healing.

Also, I still think self-awareness sucks.

And so, I escape. As we meander along the so-beautiful-it-looks-unreal Southern California landscape (to be clear, the beaches and ocean are beautiful, the cities, ugh, and I can’t help but imagine how amazing it all must have been before people), I’m pondering [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title]. It’s not great. The bones are decent. The execution pedestrian. The characters—well. I can fix some of that. Each story was supposed to be a light-hearted sexy rom-com, but apparently, when you’re traumatized and worried that your child is going to die, dark themes infect your work. The pieces are not funny, although there are funny moments.

They are not under contract, so I have a great deal of freedom with them. I don’t have to make them anything. I created them to keep myself sane, and moving. Mission accomplished.

Now, I can take these shitty first drafts and use them as a writing apprenticeship. What can I do to make them better? How can I refine them? Where can I cut, where should I add? Who, perhaps, should I kill?

They will be another leg of my apprenticeship. They will keep me moving.

The think-ahead, make-use-of-everything part of me thinks that I might be able to salvage enough out of them to throw them onto Kindle Unlimited, perhaps under an existing pen name, perhaps under a new one.

Most of me, though, is focused on just working through them. The bones are good. The flesh—some needs cutting, some needs toning. That’s the next step.

Alice: You gonna work tonight?

Jane: God, no. After the boys are asleep—cocktails in a boxcar! I saw this place on Saturday that you will love…

Wednesday, November 6

Yesterday, the Disneylanders—Ender, his cousin, my mom—left the hotel room at 7:30 a.m., hit Disneyland at 8 a.m., dragged themselves back to the hotel at 3p.m., immediately jumped into the pool, spend three hours there, and were asleep in their beds by 7:30 p.m. Slept for near 12 hours. Disneyland has been described to me as the vacation that fights back: “Having fun has never been such hard work!” They’re exhausted. But exhilarated.

It’s an infectious feeling.

Sort of…

I wake up thinking about Sylvia Plath.

In our conversation on Monday, Alice is pointing out my “things”—buckets, obligations, commitments. Pushing me to identify my “non-negotiables,” my “this is sacred, I will not give it up.” That’s when she makes me cry.

“I don’t have that much more to give up,” I tell her. “What? The seven minutes a day I reluctantly spend on Facebook?”

She uses herself as an example. “Where am I on your list?” she says. “Surely, you could have spent these two days in Anaheim writing in the hotel room, and not with me. For example. I know I’m not one of your sacred priorities.”

I kinda want to tell her to fuck off.

I am not that kind of artist, I tell her. I am not a monk or hermit; I am not a fanatic. My writing is embedded in my life, not separate from it.

On Tuesday, ankle-deep in salt water, she suggests that perhaps, then, what I need is to wait. Wait two years, four years—wait. Be Ender’s mother and teacher, Flora’s caretaker, focus on those things. And then write, later.

We’re almost not friends after that, to be honest. She’s just explained the patriarchy, in one misguided, well-intentioned sentence.

“I’ve been waiting to have more time for 17 years,” I tell her. “I had more time, comparatively, for two. Then it disappeared. There may never be more. What the fuck is wrong with you people that you can’t understand that?”

She apologizes. I’m not sure she understands. We move on to talk about her shit, which is easier for me, harder for her.

In the back of my mind, though, I’m now running on two tracks:

1-How do I fix [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title]?

2-Is there anything left that I am willing to give up?

And on Wednesday morning, thanks to Sylvia Plath, I’m able to give myself—and Alice—the answer:

Writing is the first love of my life. I have to live well and rich and far to write… I could never be a narrow introvert writer, the way many are, for my writing depends so much on my life.

Sylvia Plath, Letters Home

I spend the rest of Wednesday NOT writing. Instead, Alice and I cafe-hop and thrift-shop in Fullerton until it’s time for her flight to San Francisco; alone, I find a bar with a smoking patio, and I smoke my last holiday cigarillo and drink a double Jameson’s before meeting up with the Disneyland crew at the hotel.

Thursday, November 7 – Going Home

We pack, we eat, we catch a 90-minute Uber ride to the airport; we are going home.

The kids—and grandma—are happy but exhausted. I’m… it’s hard to tell. Relaxed, yes. My residency at the Banff Centre was marvellous and exhilarating but it was not relaxing. Spending three hours in a coffee shop treehouse with a good friend, beach hopping, thrift-store hunting for two and a half days… that’s a holiday, vacation. Earlier in the week, someone asks me if I’m on vacation, and I say, “No.” But, ok. The first three days, not so much. Those last three days, yes. Vacation.

The problem with vacations, of course, is that they don’t solve any problems. They take you away from them. Maybe, by giving you distance and separation, vacations give you a new perspective on the shit you need to go back to. Maybe, in the break, vacations give you renewed energy with which to tackle the problems.

I’m still not quite sure I’ve identified mine.

Writing is the first love of my life. I have to live well and rich and far to write… I could never be a narrow introvert writer, the way many are, for my writing depends so much on my life.

Sylvia Plath, Letters Home

Sylvia Plath was a precocious teenager when she wrote that—freshly in college, pre-love affairs, pre-Ted Hughes, pre-children, pre-publication. And, of course, her story ends very, very badly, head in the oven, two orphaned children. Let me be very clear—she is not a life role model for me.

But here, we agree. When Alice responds to my challenges-as-I-see-them-right-now, she keeps on saying equivalents of “That’s a lot of shit to manage” and “What can you give up?”

And, having slept on the question for several days, my answer is—wrong question. A very Christian question—I have to tell Alice this, because she’s struggling with some bad-ass (not in a good way) fundamentalist Christian programming. Her God says, “An eye for an eye,” and “Take what you want, but you’re gonna pay for it, and it’s gonna hurt.”

I don’t believe in her god, any god. And today, my answer to, “What can you give up?” is NOTHING.

I am going to do it all.

Now.

I’m not going to wait another year or four or ten. I’m not going to sequence. And I’m not going to sacrifice and barter.

I need to be a good, functioning, willing, fulfilled mother to Ender and Flora—and Cinder, god, at the moment, my most neglected child—I remind myself that at his age, all I wanted was to be neglected by my parents. He probably welcomes the space. To be a good mother as I define it, I need to write, work, create, live, love, and play. When I give up those things, I am a shitty, shitty resentful, angry mother. And nobody wants that—not me, not the kids.

To work and to write, I need to live wide. I need to love, to laugh, to dance and to suffer. I need to feel the sunlight on my skin, and the blood in veins.

I would not write as I do if I did not live as I do, if I did not love these children as I do. And I would not love these children–or you–as I do if I did not write…

Like Sylvia, I don’t want a narrow life.

When her life narrowed, she died.

I need to live.

And I don’t want balance. Fuck balance.

I want passion. I want tension. Stimulation.

But also, quiet, and a predictable routine in which to do my work.

As I said, I want it all.

And I’m not going to compromise.

It might be because I’m writing this in an American airport, but I’m pretty sure—if I compromise? The terrorists win.

The therapist is not going to like this.

I’m not sure Alice will, either. Alice, babe? “What do you need to give up?” is the wrong question—unless you answer it with, “My preconceptions of fucked up, unfair rules and patriarchy-reinforcing limitations.”

It’s time to board; I leave you with words of wisdom from Her Majesty:

xoxo

“Jane”

Mosaic

I.

I am 3,400 km away, and my phone pings, and it’s Flora, and she writes:

Ender was being a pain in the butt so we had to lock all the doors and he escaped with Maggie so Cinder got Ender and gave him to me and he went to get Maggie so we have now locked all the doors to keep them inside

I laugh. And write,

Oh, no. But well done.

And then text Sean:

When are you coming home?

He’s five minutes away. It’s all good.

II.

I am working out of town this week, and my village is looking after my children and my fam, and it’s okay, they’re okay, I’m okay.

Ping. It’s Flora.

We just got back from a walk at Bragg Creek we found a really cool rock

I send her a picture of me in a boardroom, surrounded by piles of papers.

This is what I did today!

(There are photos of pretty, shiny things I could send her, but I don’t want her to think I’m having too much fun without her, you know?)

She’s not impressed.

“wow so fun”

the sarcasm drips from the texted letters.

What she doesn’t know: it sort of is

III.

The cab driver wants to know how old my children are. “Almost 13, 10, and 5.5,” I tell him. Funny thing: I have to scrunch up my forehead to think about their “numbers,” as Ender always puts it. (Not “How old am I,” ever, but “Mom? What’s my number? How many am I?”). Ender’s number is 5, closer to 6 than to five now. And Cinder, Cinder. Almost 13. I’m about to become the mother of a teenager. How is that possible?

When I swing by his office, the ‘elder statesman’ asks me the same thing. “Almost 13, 10, and 5.5,” I say easily, prepped by the cabbie.

“Do you remember,” he says, “the first time you interviewed me, you brought your baby with you?”

“Really?” I say. “Which one?” We laugh. I think it must have been Flora. She who could not bear to be out of my arms or far from the nipple for the first three years of her life, and who thus lived in wraps and slings and puked on several Armani suites (and once in someone’s gym bag) as I went from interview to interview…

But it might have been Cinder, who had his diaper changed in dozens of Bay Street boardroom, and who once peed on my publisher’s carpet…

IV.

Gods, in this moment, I miss them so much there is a searing pain in my belly in my heart between my eyes.

V.

But in this very next moment, life throws down the gauntlet and I leap at it, grab it, and run with it, and I am so happy, so alive, so me, I don’t even think of them at all…

VI.

A text from Flora:

3 days down! 2 to go. We miss you so much, Mommy!

VII.

The thing is—this is THE thing, THE secret—I wouldn’t be nearly as good at my job if I didn’t have them, love them, miss them. If I didn’t exist in this constant state of tension-negotiation-trepidation, if everything I did wasn’t a weighted judgement call, if my reality did not consist of consequences-chaos-choices-a-tightrope-of-demands-screw-this-I’m-taking-a-break-NOW-oh-no-I’m-not-DEADLINE… if I didn’t live at the intersection of all these frictions, fragments, conflicts… I wouldn’t be the writer I am.

(Nor the type of mother I am, for better or for worse.)

I wouldn’t think the way I do, negotiate the way I do, perform the way I do…

The tension, the chaos, the anxiety are my fuel as much as they are a challenge, an obstacle and a distraction.

Sometimes, there’s too much…

…but when there’s nothing? When it is all calm and tranquil?

I’m bored.

I’m boring.

Flat, unmotivated, unmoving, unproductive.

VIII.

Up at 5 a.m., in cab by 5:30, boarding by 6:20. Caffenaiting. Meeting one, two, three, four. Yawn. More coffee. Run. Think. Juggle. Ping.

Good morning, mom.

Heart swells.

Good morning, little love. Look at the view from my “office” today!

Meeting five, six. I am running a marathon, I am adrenaline, I am so exhausted, watch me collapse—I would draw a bath but I’m worried I might be so tired I might drown in it, ah,screw it, I’ll probably live.

IX.

(I lived.)

X.

They will all be waiting for me at the airport, and I will drown in their love.

I will be exhausted. But also: motivated, moving, productive.

Juggling. Always juggling. Appreciating, celebrating the tension, the chaos, the anxiety as my fuel. And dancing on the tightrope.

For a while, anyway.

xoxo,

“Jane”

nbtb-mosaic

February Spring

I’m stumbling home in a February spring, coat open, gloves off, a warm wind winding in and out and around me. I am half-happy, half-mad, all-exhausted. Each step takes effort, is so slow—I want to want to run—but I can’t—I can barely walk—one foot in front of the other, and suddenly, dizzy, I stop…

I’m tired. I’m so-to-the-bone tired, an exhaustion I’d tell you I can’t describe except it would be a lie, because that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m so tired, I can barely walk, I can barely think.

I’m stumbling home…

I’ve spent the morning writing and juggling. First, loving the morning-loving-Ender, negotiating with him my need to write Morning Pages as soon as I wake up no-matter-what-no-I’m-not-going-to-build-Kapla-or-make-you-an-omelet-here-eat-an-orange-when-I-am-done-I-will-make-you-eggs-what?-yes-I-can-get-you-cold-spaghetti-from-last-night-but-you’ve-got-to-let-me-write…

Then, walking, so very quickly, to a café—I cannot work at home today, it is oppressing me, squeezing me, reprimanding me with all the things it wants from me and I hate it, I need to run away, will-you-watch-the-children-thank-you-I-promise-I-will-come-back.

Coffee. “Dark? Medium? What size?” “Surprise me. I have no superfluous decisions left in me today.” And it’s only 9 a.m….

(She gets me a large latte; I feel bad I don’t have money for a tip.)

You come to visit me for a while, and we talk about EVERYTHING, and this time, neither of us cries, and we laugh about it. You’re my fix of… what? Something undefined, but needed. I appreciate it. An injection of energy that gets me moving, and after you leave, I write.

I’m writing about a woman who’s going to change the world. As I write, I believe it. I love her, I envy her. When I finish, I despair. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to let her. They’re going to destroy her.

(Can I stop them?)

I have more to write. Difficult things, technical things, uncreative things, necessary things.

I’m suddenly tired, uninspired and I don’t want to.

A text. “Can you be home by… I need to…” “OK. I’m done writing anyway.”

In a minute, in a second, in a moment of time shorter than that, this happens: I switch from writing-producing-thinking-happy to… fallow-done-exhausted-barely-alive. The fog envelops me and deepens as I walk towards home. With each step, I get heavier. Slower. More stupid. So tired. Where does this exhaustion come from?

I stumble home, into the house, crawl up the stairs—I have a window of perhaps 20 minutes before kids—I fall into bed. Eyes closed. So-exhausted. What do people who cannot nap do?

I don’t know if I sleep. I simply don’t move.

Ping.

“Dropping kids off at the top of the hill, can you meet them?” “On my way.”

I am still tired. Stupid. I think, the thing I wrote this morning? Worthless. The things I still have to write? Pointless. When will I do it? How? Despair.

I stumble out of the house. One foot in front of the other. February spring, wind.

Oh.

I inhale.

An idea…

One foot in front of the other up the hill I see three little bodies, arms waving, legs and arms pumping, oh-the-energy, infect me!

We walk home together. I am still tired. But I am not stumbling. I am not stumbling.

There is food on the stove (I text: “Thank you, my love”). I do some things. A request: “Sit beside me, Mom.” I do. I open the lap top. Caress the keys. Maybe what I wrote this morning wasn’t so bad.

Maybe what I write next isn’t pointless.

“Hey, Mom, do you want me to make you some green tea? You look like a zombie.”

I am, just a little, tired.

But no longer so-to-the-bone tired I can’t walk-or-think.

Still. I am looking forward to bedtime. Immensely.

nbtb-Feb Spring

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. You really liked this post: Dear un-Valentine: the way you talk to your partner tells me more about you than the way you kiss. Thanks!

“My children are my best friends.” “Really? What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“My children are my best friends,” she says to me. And looks at me, intently, for approval.

I don’t know what to say. I’m horrified.

Actually, I do know what I want to say:

“Really? Jesus. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

But that’s not going to help her, at all, or build—preserve—our fledgling relationship. So:

“Really?” I say. “Hmmm. Mine are not. Not. At. All.”

And as she processes that with this preconception she has of me as an attachment parenting-homeschooling-fully-immersed-in-motherhood-24/7-and-loving-it guru (Ha! She does not know—I run awayI resentI live so very firmly in reality and not theory), I try to figure out how to give her the context. How to explain.

Here’s the thing, my little one, maybe I’ll say. (Little one, because in that moment, looking to me for approval and guidance, she wrecks the dynamic of our nascent relationship, and we are not friends, we cannot be, we are not equals, and that’s the thing about friends, is it not?) Here’s the thing, my little one, I love my children. Madly, unconditionally. I love spending time with them. I have rewritten almost all the spoken and unspoken rules of life, career, marriage to be their primary caregiver.

But they are not everything. They are not enough. And they should not be everything—enough—to any sentient adult.

(Forgive the use of “should.” You know I try not to tell you what to do. But in this case, little one, you should have adult friends and not burden your children with being everything to you. Burden. That’s the word… Let’s talk about it some more in a couple of paragraphs, but first, another “b” word…)

The thing about children—oh, dare I tell you this? OK, here goes—when they are little, little, peeing-pooping-eating-burping messes—the thing about that stage, that amazing-exhausting stage that takes so much out of you and in which you give so much to them, and in which they are utterly and completely your world—it is so… boring. I mean… Christ. Changing diapers? Necessary, yes. Exciting? No. Reading Margaret Wiseman Brown’s The Big Red Barn for the eleventh time that hour—a wonderful, sharing experience with your little one. No doubt. Intellectually stimulating for you?

For me, not so much. Not at all. And playing cars on the floor with your motor-skill-finding toddler? Fun for the first 10 minutes. After that… the excitement pales. Just a little…

There are whole swaths of parenthood, of the work you do as mother-father, that are mind-numbingly boring. That’s ok; it’s just the way it is—life is not supposed to be a Disneyland theme ride. We find fulfillment and joy in doing the boring for them: we find joy in their joy as they… discover gravity.

And we get exhausted and exasperated, too: how many stones do you need to throw into the goddamn river before we move on? Oh. Infinity. Right… and we learn to love some of those experiences, because we love them and see the world through their eyes. And we learn to use some of that time for ourselves (book in pocket, game on phone, an opportunity to text with an also-trapped-at-a-different-playground-why-didn’t-we-coordinate-this friend).

And we find things to do together that excite us both on some level (for me and mine, it’s always been water. Pools, lakes, rivers, puddles).

But… so much of what little kids do and want to do and need to do is… boring.

(It’s not for you? Really? I don’t, honestly, believe you. But if it really is—if every last aspect fascinates you—good on you. Open a daycare, preschool, playplace. But also—get yourself some adult friends, pronto. Because, boring is only the secondary “B” word. Remember the first one? It’s burden.)

My children are older now. The 12-year-old and I sometimes read the same books and watch the same movies and Netflix shows. He explains mind-blowing scientific developments to me (most of the time, I don’t understand them). We argue about the theories about the past and the future of universe. Being with him, talking with him is definitely not boring.

The near-10-year is reaching the beginning of that ever-so-challenging age for girls; the metamorphosis begins, and most bedtimes, she will crawl into bed beside me, and alternate between being a child and being a budding woman in the space of a sentence.

She asks me the most difficult questions. She stretches my capacity to think-reason-love to the utmost. “What is truth?” “Why don’t you believe in God?” “When would I be old enough to date a boy five years older than me?” “How do people know if they’re straight or gay?” “Why do people do drugs, and have you ever?” “What would you do if you had a friend who…” Never, ever boring.

Listen, little one, this is the most important thing: I am there for her. I listen. I do my best to answer… or to point her to another question. To reassure (I’m terrible at that, frankly), to support (getting better at that).

But she is not there for me. She cannot be there for me. I am her mother, and it is her right to burden me with whatever she needs to unload, share, explore, question.

She is my daughter, she is my child, she is my little one—and it is my responsibility to NOT dump my dark on her.

Not hers to carry. She is… little. And she is my daughter. Not my friend. My responsibility. Not my equal.

So. All this, I want to say. Can I? Will I? I chicken out:

“You know what? I’ll write you a post instead. And we can talk about it, argue about it, take it to pieces. You can tell me about the dark from which your arguments come from: why it is that you feel you want to be their best friend. Why are you putting them in the awful position of being yours? Do you resist making connections with equals, adults? What’s the story you tell yourself around that? Why are you, from our first encounter, making yourself smaller than me, and looking for my approval? Why do you want to give me that power? Who the hell am I that you should defer to me?

“I’ll make you angry, and you’ll respond, and call me on my tactics. And demand I tell you where my dark comes from. Why my connections with adults are what they are… what drives me, what scares, why and where I connect and why I run—and how that fits with how I define myself as a mother-person-writer-other. And maybe I’ll tell you so much, you will tell me, ‘OMG-Jane, I think you need a therapist.’ And maybe, I will say, ‘Probably more than one. ‘”

You can do that with a friend.

xoxo

“Jane“

NBTB-Best Friends

Meditation for #writers, “Mom! I need you!” and struggling to stay on that tightrope

For Deb, who wanted more naked. For Jen, who cannot ever stop writing. For Katia, who’s about to start a new job… because life was not intense enough as it was, was it, darling? For Cathy, who feels guilty about thinking—and who needs to start writing. For my Nicole, whose tightrope is harder than mine. For Nan, who understands too well—and, of course, for the introduction.

And for you. Because that tightrope I walk? Nothing unique about it, is there?

CAVEAT: This is a 3000+ word post and thus a ridiculous on-line time commitment. And it’s not the type of piece you skim for the funny bits. So. Go get yourself a glass of wine (Some University of Alberta professors have just discovered that drinking wine has the same health benefits as going to the gym—finally! Good news!). Put on some hot shoes (you don’t need to, but it will make me happy. What? You think this should be about you, not about me? Fine. Sit there in your slouchy, holey socks. I wrote this in knee-high gladiator sandals—black, leather, strappy—just to make you happy. But whatever. You’re the reader. Do what you like. Oh, sweetness. Thank you. Thank you.). Get the children watching James and The Giant Peach on Netflix. And let’s get naked.

Yeah, again. I know. It’s becoming a habit. So much of life is…

I.

Today, I am writing sitting criss-cross apple sauce on the couch, wearing a jacket that smells of camp fire smoke, two hairy blankets wrapped around my bare, chilled (and also hairy) legs. Next to me is the almost five-year-old, with soy chocolate milk stains on his pants and joy in his heart, because he just ate four mandarin oranges for breakfast.

He’s watching Blue’s Clues.

I’m meditating.

(Yes. I lied about the hot shoes I was writing the post in just to get you to start reading. I’d apologize… but here you are, all dressed up. And don’t you feel good?)

Which means, I am writing the long-hand version of this post—perverting the instructions of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, subverting the wisdom of Naomi Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and making Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts entirely my own…

You’re confused. It’s all right. I’m confused and confusing. Walk with me a little, and let’s confuse each other some more.

For the last two, near-three months, I’ve been starting my days with Sarah Selecky. Selecky is a Canadian writer, author of This Cake is for the Party, and creator of The Story is A State of Mind and The Story Intensive courses, which she promotes, inter alia, through a free daily writing prompt. I was introduced to her work the first time I met a new crush. Have you ever witnessed two writers getting to know each other? Only two questions seem to really matter: who are you reading? And… what are you writing?

But I wasn’t writing anything—not anything that mattered. I was… stalled? Stalled. Paused. It was at the tail-end of that awful-no-good post-flood Lost Year. I was so tired… and also, so tired of not moving. Of the brilliant (or was it? No, it just sucked, that’s why it wasn’t going anywhere…) idea I had for my second novel—oh-yes, what a perfect way to further subvert convention-expectation-story—remaining a chaotic, one-page mind map and a 1500 word teaser that was NOT. GOING. ANYWHERE. It was never going to go anywhere, because I was too-stupid-lazy-talentless to do anything with it, the idea was too ambitious—no, it was too trite, to cliché, so not worth writing about—too hard to write about… except I could not write about anything else because all that swirled in my head was this…

NBTB-Methadone Dec 30

“Sarah Selecky’s writing prompts,” she said, for perhaps the sixth time, the sixth time (or sixtieth?) that we had the same conversation.

“What?”

“Sarah. Selecky.”

She didn’t say, “Try it.” Or—what anyone else would have said, what I would have said had the situation been reversed, “Stop your whining and try this…”

I finally heard her that day because I had just met the yyc artist Amy Dryer, and I fell in love with her work, her process, her courage—and oh, her studio, her studio! (A piece on that love affair, “An afternoon with Amy Dryer,” coming soon on CalgaryBusinessWriter.com; also,  watch for my alter-ego’s sketch of Dryer in an upcoming issue of Avenue. All you need to know for this story is this:)

Because of my encounter with Dryer, I was, very briefly, open to thinking about myself as an artist who needs to create. It’s a state I resist, because… well, pretentious, right? I am so not an artist. Part of my amateur-professional dichotomy—and I’ve internalized that too well—is also artist-professional. And I am a professional—the definition of professional being showing up and doing the work even when you don’t want to, and doing it so well, even when you don’t care, don’t want to, that no one can tell the difference.

I don’t wait for inspiration. I PERFORM on demand.

Except, I wasn’t. Instead: flailing. Wailing. Not doing the work I really wanted to be doing. And sick of being a wanker.

So.

Amy. Artist, for sure. Me? Maybe? Sometimes? Open, opening. Inspired. And the rivers crested but stayed in their banks, and I had, while not a room of my own, once again a space-that-is-me-my-heart-mind-made-into-place and it was time to unpause. To move. To write the thing I needed to write.

But. Inertia. Stalled. Help.

Phone. Where is my phone?

Text: “What is the name of that writer you keep on telling me about? The one who has those creative writing prompts?”

“Sarah Selecky, at sarahselecky.com.”

I love her, because she doesn’t say—about time.

I do the thing. Sing up for the writing prompts. Tell myself—tomorrow morning, when I wake up, I will write.

Morning: I check my email. And there it is.

“Write about mica. Write by hand, in your notebook, for 10 minutes.”

And… panic. By hand? On paper? With—really—ink?

I used to write by hand a lot. Journals. Sketches. Vignettes. Documentation of my children’s earliest years. Outlines of my first, terrible-no-good novels. First drafts of short stories. And letters. Letters to you—did you keep them? Everything you ever wrote to me is gone. It looks like this:

Ruined papers 3

…and, really? By hand? In 2014?

I don’t even have a notebook.

What an excuse, what a perfect excuse, not to start.

No excuses.

I find one of my kids’ unfinished composition books. Find a blank page. A pencil.

Mica.

No.

I don’t want to write about mica. What’s mica, even?

I want to write my novel.

I want to write about cold Elizabeth, connecting Annie, crazy Zia and angsting Destiny—why did Zia give her daughter such a terrible name? Right, there was a reason… I had a reason for that… Oh. Right…

Write.

I put Elizabeth and Annie on a rocky Alberta beach where the water shimmers with mica. And Annie bursts in tears, and Elizabeth is appalled, and I write two awkward, stilted, AWFUL pages.

Done.

(and at this moment, during that day’s writing meditation, Ender is done too, and demands I read him Ten Apples Up On Top, and I do, and I write no more, about anything, that day. The next day, I pick up, here…)

II.

The next day, I “describe the smell of coconut sun tan lotion without using the word sweet” in three terrible (AWFUL, UNUSABLE) pages that show how much Elizabeth resents Annie’s attempts to have a relationship with her daughter. The day after, four scenes about walnuts—Elizabeth and Brian’s biggest fight, Annie’s most generous gift, a hint at Elizabeth’s secret life…

The writing gets easier. And my days get easier. Even on the ones when life’s demands prevent me from sitting down at the computer ever—or limit my writing sessions to urgent professional transactions (prose for cash, propaganda for cheques, what story do you need me to sell to your clients today, client of mine?), I feel like I have written. And to purpose, my bigger purpose.

I have written, I have been a writer—now I can be all the other things. Perform on demand…

I know I’ve established a sustainable habit when, on a day we all have to get up at 5 a.m. in order to get three kids and two adults into a car by 6 a.m. for an eight-hour car trip—the first thing I do when I wake up is take 10 minutes to sit and write.

Two months later, I have, in two and a half notebooks, and on a few assorted scraps of paper torn out of other people’s notebooks (“Seriously, Mom?” “I’m sorry! I couldn’t find my notebook.” “Again?”) a rough—chaotic, messy, non-linear, and oh-with-so-many holes—draft of a novel. It needs so much more work…

But it’s just pulsating with potential.

NBTB-Mind Map2

I am pulsating with gratitude. For Sarah and her prompts. Amy the artist and the permission she gave me, for a few hours at least, to think of myself as such. The writer-who-introduced-us, for her persistence and gentleness of suggestion.

I pervert-subvert-harness Selecky’s process. I turn the prompts into kickstarts to get me writing about something I already know I want-to-need-to write about. When she tells me to make lists, I write dialogues between Elizabeth and Annie. When the writing prompt is to “Write about a character named Wire,” I create a lover for Sasha (that’s Destiny’s new name; she aggressively rechristened herself when the prompt was “Write a scene set under a hanging pendant lamp,” and what a surprise that was). He’s awful. He appalls her mother. Amuses her stepmother. She dumps him the day Elizabeth tells her she thinks he’s “quite attractive. Reminds me of your father.”

Elizabeth is a bitch. Actually, more. Another word is much more appropriate… (My publisher raises his eyebrows. “Again? We have to talk about THAT word again?” Maybe. We’ll see…)

I love her.

When Selecky tells me to describe my mother from the point of view of my father, I, for once, do what I’m told. I follow instructions, precisely. How can I resist?

By mid-September, I don’t need the writing prompts. Most days, I sit down and just write. Sometimes, bits for the book. Occasionally, like now, skeletons or blueprints for posts or essays. More often, I just sketch with words. Sometimes, it flows. Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes, I dive into my email for the writing prompt, because I am stuck, don’t know quite how to begin that day. Other times, I ask my kids to throw random words at me to get me started.

It’s not easy.

I don’t mean the writing. Writing is sometimes easy and sometimes not, like everything in life. I mean—it’s not easy DOING it. Finding, having, maintaining the space-and-time to do it.

That’s the tightrope I walk… Do you walk it too?

III.

A month—less—into my new writing routine, Sean has a mini-breakdown about it. Me, at the kitchen table, with my notebook. Writing. Every morning, no matter what else is happening. What does that mean?

I don’t understand.

He unravels. What is he supposed to do during this time? With himself? With the kids? Is he not supposed to start work until I finish? Is he…

Interrupted in my flow, I am rage and anger and so-not-Zen.

“I don’t give a fuck what you do. Just let me write. Don’t talk to me until I finish.”

“But… the children…”

The children are 12, 9 and almost 5.

“They can tend to themselves while I write for 10, 15—hell, 30 minutes. Why are we even talking about this? It is not a big deal. Nobody is affected!”

Except… they are.

I have been typing-writing, in spurts, bits, wrested minutes of time, negotiated, blocked-off hours of time, computer in lap, on table, all of my children’s lives—all of our marriage.

My writing has been, is my work; it helps pay for our house, our food, our life.

My pre-write-by-hand-in-your-notebook-for-10-minutes morning routine involved having my computer in my lap. Facebook, email, blogging maintenance-and-business. Reading online news.

Why is this—me, notebook, kitchen table—different? Why is it a big deal?

Sean can’t tell me, in that moment. But we figure it out, as we talk about it, and when I realize—that I’m not just writing. That this time in the morning, bent over my notebook—this is my meditation. Prayer. And it really works. It is perfectly effective for me—even when it’s hard, slogging.

What that means: I am completely in the work. I am fully present there. And so—fully absent elsewhere.

I don’t notice Sean when he comes into the kitchen and asks me if I want a cup of coffee.

I don’t say hi to Flora when she wanders in to get her bowl of cereal. I don’t even see her.

Ender climbs onto my shoulders, seeking attention and affection… and I shrug him off and keep on writing.

And I do all this not in the space-that-is-me-my-heart-mind-made-into-place—the place where I’m supposed to write… but in the kitchen. The place where they think I should be theirs.

Flora captures their perception of what’s happening too aptly one day on a beach on the Haida Gwaii. The psychic who lives next door and who is our cicerone on that trip to the edge of the world and beyond comments what a wonderful, involved, loving and physically engaged mother I am. (She’s like that, my psychic-neighbour-beloved-friend-of-many-lifetimes, so good at handing out compliments, just when they’re needed—were only more of us like her.) “Very unusual for a Gemini,” she adds. “They tend to be more detached. More in their heads.”

I flush with pleasure. And my Flora wraps her arms around me from the back, and kisses my cheek.

“Mommy loves us so much and she loves hugging and being hugged and kissing and playing,”

she says, squeezing me hard. She pauses.

“Except when she’s writing. Then she wishes we’d all go away and die.”

She laughs.

I burst into tears.

Because it’s true.

Not the “and die” part. Gods, not that, never. But this “go away and leave me alone I’m writing!” part?

Yes.

IV.

My friend L.A. is working on a paper about post-modern feminist discourse on domestic violence and from within this research, throws this quote into my newsfeed:

“It is important to place ambivalence at the heart of mothers’ relationships with their children. In this analysis, mothers both love and hate their children and this ambivalence can contribute to creative, thoughtful mothering.”

I ponder. I don’t think I am ambivalent about my children. I love them ferociously, desperately. Life without them is untenable; I no longer have any conception of myself without this exhilarating-exhausting-never-ending—childhood may be a stage; motherhood is forever—role. I would do it all again, more or less the same way (I would have had Ender sooner) a hundred, a thousand times.

But there is no doubt that what they want and need is often in conflict with what I want and need.

The more so as I get older.

“Mother” is NOT my all-encompassing identity.

Neither is “wife.”

(And housekeeper-housewife-homemaker don’t even come into play…)

And I will be neither a martyr nor a negligent parent. So…

I am struggling—do you see that? Because I don’t want to pretend, through pretty words, that I have the answers to anything here—I am struggling, as never before, to fulfill-discharge my obligations to my children and my family AND my obligations to myself. And maybe you are too. You know how they tell you it gets easier? They lie. In so many ways, it gets harder.

(What? No, no, don’t take off your shoes. You’re almost at the end. And you look sooo good. Come on, love. If you’re going to do this, do it properly. It’s not like you’re dancing or standing in them, right? Just lounging on the couch. Put your perfectly shod feet up—there, you can admire them and yourself better thus—and… let’s continue…)

There was a time, not that long ago, when my meditation was baby-at-breast… or walking a stroller around the block, and writing in my head, and that was… not perfect, but enough. Because, the smell of the baby’s head, the curl of those tiny fingers around my thumb fed me as nothing else.

And also… because what the baby needed from me… was so very simple. So very physical…

When they need me now, they don’t need just the breast, the arms, my body. For Ender, that’s still key, but it’s shifting even there, and for the older two—they either don’t need me at all (but, inevitably, that is when Ender needs me most) or they need me so fully-completely, letting my mind wander-and-write-as-it-wants-to isn’t an option.

And I need me, in the moments I write, fully-completely too. The work and writing I want to do now is more difficult (rewarding), challenging (ambitious). It requires more of me. I want to give more to it.

So. There we are. Ambivalent? No, not ambivalent.

But on a tightrope, for sure.

And it so hard.

My morning writing meditation both helps me walk that tightrope… and underscores how very, very taut it is.

How easily I can fall off.

(…and that’s how it ends that day. But what a downer. No. Let’s not finish yet. Let’s walk on… Re-adjust the straps on your shoes, beloved. Suffer with me, for me, just a little longer.)

V.

It’s another day of writing on the couch, my near-five-year-old tucked into my armpit, Blue’s Clues in the background again, and an intermittent plea “You said you’d make jellyroll today!” impinging on my flow.

I am negotiating, compromising, walking the tightrope. I do not write in the kitchen, where I am theirs to access. I get that. I have that space-that-is-me-my-heart-mind-made-into-place, the place where I work and draft… That is also where I would like to write-meditate in the mornings.

But…

“Mommy? Could you please, please sit with me on the couch? I need you to be near me!”

And so, I give him my physical self.

My mind writes. It is absent from him.

It is… an imperfect practice. My elder children (I hope) understand what I am doing and why it is so important to me (if they don’t quite understand, they accept). The little one does not. He knows-sees that I’m not fully there for him, and his ability to deal is varied. Sometimes, he will settle for being just near me. And sometimes, he desperately wants more.

“Jellyroll? When are we going to make the jelly roll? Mom? Move your arm! Mom! Help me! I’m stuck in the crack!”

There’s an edge of resentment to my flow. And also—urgency. I write, sketch, chase ideas, nail down phrases, developments as quickly as possible. Because, at any point, any of those,

“Mooom! Help me!”

…might be the last.

Meditation? Ha. Maybe that’s not what most people understand by meditation. But it’s the best I can do right now.

VI.

I commit in this piece the biggest blogging sin: I’m writing about me, it’s all about me, instead of telling you the “10 Surefire Ways to Achieve World Peace, Eternal Happiness and Total Creative Fulfillment By Friday.”

Next week, I’ll make it all about you. I promise.

But right now? I’ve just wrenched a four-hour block of time from life, and I’m going to go use it.

Don’t you dare interrupt me.

I love you and I can’t imagine life without you. Except when I’m writing. Then I just need you to go away—and let me write.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Meditation for writers

PS Next week, “10 Surefire Ways to Achieve World Peace, Eternal Happiness and Total Creative Fulfillment By Friday.” Or something like that.

PS2 You can slip those shoes off now. But put them back on if you decide to re-read the post. Trust me. It’s a totally different experience in bare feet.

It’s not about balance: creating your family’s harmony

Ever since Cinder arrived and completely changed our universe, I envisioned life post-children as… family life. Not adult-centred. Not child-centred.

Family-centred.

I was lucky here, as I had had a pretty good model. My parents lived full lives, with us in them, part of them, along for the entire exhilarating ride. Among the legacies they’ve left me that I cherish is the belief that “parenting” isn’t a part of life, isn’t a job, isn’t a stage—it’s, simply, life.

Just life. Life with children, life as a family. We all struggle through this in the early days of the journey. We talk about the need for balance. Balance. I don’t really like that word in the context of family life. Because it’s not about balance, it’s not about give and take. It’s about… what? Harmony? Fulfillment?

It’s about every member of the family getting the nourishment he or she needs.

I want my children to be happy, fulfilled, loved, and respected—and me too, I want those things for myself as well. Both my children and I—and my partner, their father—deserve to be happy, fulfilled, loved, and respected. And we are happy, fulfilled, love, and respected… most of the time. (There are always bad days or, more precisely, bad moments. I think that’s another secret we learn on the journey: that bad moments can be just that, moments. Well, unless they become patterns. But that, again, is another story.)

In a family, when one member of the family isn’t feeling happy, fulfilled, loved, and respected—there are repercussions on everyone. It’s a situation that must be addressed.

Parents’ needs and children’s needs are often talked about in combative language, and words like compromise, sacrifice, trade-off etc. often make an appearance. It’s unfortunate—very Western—very unnecessary. Because it’s all just, well, life. Figuring out how to best get along, live, thrive—sometimes just barely survive!—as a family, in whatever the universe is throwing at you at the moment.

What does this mean for me as a mother of young children, for me as a person? Simply this: I did not stop being a person—with needs, wants, ideas, passions, biological rhythms and all that—when I had children. I added another layer of complexity—amazing complexity—loving complexity—complexity and experience I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. I am pursuing my life path, my life journey still.

My children are part of my journey, and they have their own, and I’m part of theirs… but their journey is not mine, just as my journey is not theirs. I am not putting my life on hold while I give them a dream childhood. I am still living my life, time is still flowing, stuff is happening. I’m just living it with my children. Different pace, different priorities than before, of course.

Balance? Life with young children is inevitably unbalanced. So I don’t seek balance. I seek harmony.

Sometimes I even find it.

In the end, this is the biggest secret power of women, of mothers–and of fathers, of parents–in the middle of the utmost chaos, conflicting pressures, we find a solution, we create our harmony. And it’s our harmony, our unique blend, formula, solution, to address the unique needs and challenges of the quirky individuals that make up our individual quirky families. No one else can create it for us; no one else can copy ours.

What do you aim for? Balance? Harmony? Something else altogether?

From Life’s Archives, Feb 21, 2008, Harmony, not Balance. It’s not often I pull out something I wrote about the parenting journey in the first years that still fully resounds with me… but this is one of those pieces. If I were writing it today, it would still be essentially the same. Well, more polished and more cohesive. I’m getting much more sleep these days.

Every Cathedral Should Have Stained Glass