Pandemic Diary: Don’t you hate it when the Buddhists are right?


Valentine’s Day has come and gone, another weird COVID holiday. Did you have a good time? I did, but it seemed to me, from the outside looking in, that it was a subdued affair, all around. Restaurants are open again in Viking Hell, but most folks I know chose to order in anyway. I’ve never really “celebrated” Valentine’s Day as a romantic couple—Sean and I had had a massive fight of mismatched expectations after our first Valentine’s Day as a couple and I dealt with it by abolishing Valentine’s Day forever more, and, since kids—and that’s been the last eighteen years of my life, I usually threw an unValentine’s Day party for people who didn’t have dates or couldn’t get babysitters. They were a lot of fun, those parties.

This year, I had 2/3 or my kids for an unValentine’s Day dinner–the eldest wanted to spend it online with this friends–which we ended by sharing a chocolate bomb from 8 Cakes, one of the participants in the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest 2021 (mini-review: great idea, mixed reviews on the execution—too sweet, too sweet, and all the colours merged into a quite ugly pale beige—still, it brought us joy, and showcased creativity, so, one thumb up, one thumb down, one neutral). Afterwards, a sheesha date—rose mint at Cafe Medina, I am so grateful my cafes are open again and I need them to survive, I need them to be here tomorrow and next fall and winter and next year. The day before, on Valentine’s Day Eve—this could be a thing—one of my loves and I gave ourselves diabetes by partaking in the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest and finding out how many cups of hot chocolate a person can drink in one five hour period.

(The answer is two, not five, OMG, my poor pancreas, and two is actually too much—one hot chocolate once a week or once a month or twice a year is about what one needs, really.)

So, COVID notwithstanding, month twelve (how has it been twelve months already) of the pandemic notwithstanding, ban on indoor social gatherings notwithstanding—please vaccinate the elderly and the vulnerable already, please, please, please—and my overall cynicism towards Valentine’s Day notwithstanding, I had a really terrific day and weekend. And as the weekend morphs into the week, I am thinking that, dammit, the Buddhists are right: happiness is a state of mind that comes from within.

Well, of course, there was all that chocolate. Surely that helped too…


The day after Valentine’s Day—it’s a Monday—why is it so hard to keep track of the days of the week, was that not just yesterday?—a friend stops by unexpectedly. He’s in the neighbourhood. “I thought I’d just stop by and give you a hug; it’s been a long time.” I am covered with red ink and cornstarch—it’s Ender’s homeschooling at Mom’s day and I’ve long abandoned copy work and math for kitchen science. We’ve been playing with Elephant’s toothpaste (google it) and oobleck (ditto).

I get cornstarch on my friend’s black winter coat while I rest against his shoulder, in his arms.

The hug is illegal, although I’m not sure of the monetary fine attached to it. If he comes inside, it’s a $1000 punishment.

Him: How are you? You look good.

Jane: Up and down to be honest. January was hell. February is better.

Him: That’s all of us now. But you look good. You look happy.

Covered in cornstarch and ink, wearing a stained lab coat over pajama pants, with untended, undyed hair—and ink on my fingers and face—I know I don’t look good. I look good—I look… happy.

I check in with myself as I say goodbye to my friend and go back to Ender.

Am I happy?


Feelings are weird, aren’t they? The result of chemical cocktails that, yes, are formed to a certain extent by our bodily reactions to external stimuli, actions, and behaviours… but, mostly, just made in the chemical factory that is you and me.

Am I happy?

I am stressed and stretched to the breaking point financially. I am worried about my children, on that day, especially, my eldest, who should be planning his future right now and he fucking can’t, who can? I am pondering if, perhaps, I need to rethink my career path and, instead of writing, dig graves or drive a bus, or, fuck, anything that brings in a steady, predictable stream of income instead of the random feast/famine of royalties and contracts. I miss you and her and him and them and parties and potlucks and art galleries. I am not certain about anything, I can’t plan more than a week ahead, and I’m afraid to read the news because I need another external negative stimulus like I need another non-paying “but it’s such good exposure, for such a good cause” contract.

And yet… with all of that…

All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel the roughness of a carpet under smooth soles, a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.

Doris Lessing

…I feel sunlight on my skin and bones and muscles under my skin and layer of pandemic fat… and I’m happy.

Hydrogen peroxide, dish soap and dry yeast just gave me and Ender a morning of pure happiness. The dog at our feet, spreading her fur everywhere—I really need to groom her—is pure love. My friend’s drive-by hug runneth a full cup over. My mom made me cabbage rolls the other day, OMG, they tasted like heaven in my mouth. Flora is researching the Polska Walcząca/Armia Krajowa emblem, a piece of her family heritage that’s been an unnoticed part of the furniture in the home all her life, but has now acquired interest and meaning. I love her passion—I love this apartment, today, especially, the temperamental fireplace—and I love the blue sky and sunshine we’re getting during this polar vortex—it’s beautiful and I love beautiful things.

The dark chocolate a friend drops off for me the Friday before Valentine’s Day—a Valentine’s present and a “you’re important to me always” gift in one—singing happy birthday to my upstairs neighbour in the hallway, a text, a phone call from a friend who’s far away, finding the missing sock from my favourite pair, driving Cinder to work and listening to him process… all of these things make me… happy.

Listening to M.C. Beaton’s cheesy murder mysteries on my earbuds—a gift from someone who loves me who couldn’t believe I was still using my frayed “well only one earbud works, and the mic is fried, but it’s good enough” pair—and watching The Inspector Lynley mysteries on Britbox—another gift from someone else who loves me? Ditto.

I am happy, I am loved.

I rest in this feeling.


I need to return a Service Canada call, to talk to someone about my EI/CERB application. I don’t want to—I hope filling out the form is the last minute voodoo I have to do before a new contract or sale materializes—god, for a $25,000 advance—it feels like it would solve all my problems and I won’t complain that it’s too small, promise, and I’ll work my ass off to earn it out and earn the publisher more money, promise, promise, promise—if only prayers really did work this way….

I look at the number I have to dial. I don’t want to. But I’ll do it. And then I’ll write and then I’ll look for jobs and something will materialize. It always does.

Him: You did look good. Happy.

Jane: I’m fine.

I’m not, really. It’s month twelve of the pandemic, and none of us are fine, all of us are broken and beaten up, and it is so cold outside—although warmer than yesterday, than last week—but we’re alive and I feel the sun on my skin. Do you?

Bask in a cold ray of sunshine for a while.

Then eat some chocolate.

Rest in the feeling.



Pandemic Diary: Feeling all the feelings, naming and owning their shame

So I went through a thing with you the other night, when you were feeling all the feelings, but then, on top of that, shame for feeling all the feelings, and I think I helped you, a little, but through it all, I also got feelings—followed by shame about having those feelings—and so today, I find myself pondering—where does that shame about having feelings and emotions come from? I don’t think it’s biological, innate, and inevitable, because it makes no sense—it does not help us survive. It’s destructive, actually, and traps us in horrid spirals. The Buddhists and the yogis, and most psychotherapists, teach you to look at your thoughts and feelings (they don’t always separate the two) dispassionately, without judgement—without shame. But we judge. That’s our go-to. We shame.


Let’s take the generic pandemic-related feelings most of us are feeling these days—frustration, depression, anxiety, anger. Really. All the feelings. “I can’t cope.” “This sucks.” “Pain.” “Alienation.” “Loneliness.”

Fury at strangers, because they’re not wearing masks–because they are…

Isn’t there a layer of shame and judgement on top of each of them? “Why is this so hard?” “What’s wrong with me that I can’t cope?” “So many people have it so much worse—why am I so unhappy? What right do I have to feeling this much pain?”

Every right. Cause it’s your feeling. Your pain. Your level of emotional exhaustion and depletion. Your particular hormonal cocktail.

Isn’t it hard enough feeling all the feelings in the first place without feeling ashamed that you’re having them?

No—stop! Now you’re feeling ashamed that you’re ashamed—stop, stop, stop!

(What am I doing? I’m not supposed to tell you to stop how you’re feeling…)

Deep breath.

Eat some chocolate.

You: You know chocolate is a junk food and not a medicine, right?

Jane: Lie. It’s medicine, and also, a food of the gods. See Sophie & Michael Coe’s The True History of Chocolate; also, Marcela Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate; also—this one is the most depressing, tbh, but sometimes, knowledge hurts—Kay Frydenborg’s Chocolate: Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat.

I work through my shame in the morning on the page, write my way to being at peace with the ugliest of my feelings. You, I don’t know, I hope you slept deeply and dreamed of beautiful things, and woke up willing to accept all the feelings as part of who you are right now. No shame necessary…

But now, no longer feeling shame, I wonder if instead of dissipating it, we just need to name it and accept it. “I feel—frustrated, angry, suicidal. I feel ashamed of these feelings, because, Christ, things aren’t that bad, really, and yet I feel inadequate, incompetent, a failure. I feel all of these things. And that’s ok. It sucks, but it’s also ok…”


I kinda feel like re-reading Brene Brown on shame (cause she thinks there’s a reason for shame–, and also, maybe, meditating, cause I need to come down a little more, and also, eating chocolate cake, but I have neither flour nor coco powder in the house, should I go shopping? No. I also feel like writing, so I’ll work instead. Julia Cameron says, “The trick is to metabolize pain as energy,” and dammit if she’s not right.

I’m gonna check in on you later, and I’m sure you’ll still be feeling all the feelings. Including shame. But maybe, less powerfully? And that’s okay. That’s you right now. And I love you as you are. In the pain, and in the shame.

Later, I’ll bring you chocolate.



Pandemic Diary: Less enthusiasm, more chocolate


Before I start, a caveat: no, you can’t make me happy, no, you can’t do anything right. It’s 2020 and pretty much everything sucks, and the good things are so comparatively small, it takes supreme acts of will to appreciate them.


You: How are things?

Jane: Things are ok.

You: I’m glad things are ok!

Wait, wait, wait, WTF? Where did that exclamation mark, that enthusiasm come from? Things are—ok. Not Ok!


Never mind. Let’s just talk in GIFs and memes, and misinterpret those instead.

I love texting / I hate texting and because right now texting is the dominant mode of communication between me and the world—I really hate texting and I guess I could pick up the phone and call you, but I’ve forgotten how to do that. Also, tbh, I don’t really want to fix my problems. I just want to complain about them.

You: Are you sure things are ok?

Jane: Yeah, they’re fine.

You: I’m glad things are fine!

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Maybe we just shouldn’t talk.


Things are ok. Fine. No exclamation mark, please, no excessive enthusiasm or toxic positivity, ok? It’s 2020 and breathing is hard—especially if you’re a Black American—what, did you think I was going to make it about masks? Come on, honey. Choose a better hill to die on.

Things are hard, but ok, ok but hard, ok and hard. That can be a thing, right. This and that.

Ok and hard.

You: I’m afraid to say anything.

Jane: I know. Just, like… don’t use exclamation marks or thumbs up emojis when you text me, ok?

You: ok!

Now you’re mocking me. Why would you do that?


You cannot make me happy and I cannot make you happy, because it’s 2020 and even when things are ok, they’re definitely not ok! and they’re hard. But we can NOT make things worse, for each other, personally, anyway, right

You: Wait, I figured this out!

Jane: It’s not that hard. Just drop the damned exclamation marks and send hugs.

You: No, no, I got this. Let me try again.

Fine. Why not? Ok and hard, and I can deal with your attempt to deal with negativity—or neutrality—by drowning me in enthusiasm and positivity, because I love you, and… Fine. Ok. You may try again.

You: How are things?

Jane: They’re ok.

You: Chocolate?

OMG! Yes! I love you! Thank you!



Pandemic Diary: Helplessness tastes like sand; eat chocolate instead

I feel fat, which means I am very unwell and about to stop eating. My mouth feels full of yesterday’s food and I feel layers of fat and flesh obfuscating my soul. My belly–I grimace at it in the mirror–looks large and swollen.

I feel shame.

It is possible that I’ve put on a few pounds over quarantine. I’m drinking too much, people who love me are feeding me a lot of chocolate and ice cream—and chocolate croissants, with chocolate and ice cream on the side—and the other day, Cinder made lasagna, delicious, poisonous cheese and gluten, and I devoured it, gastrointestinal discomfort be damned.

So it is possible that I’m heavier. Fatter. Flabbier. But that I am having these thoughts, drowning in these thoughts? It has nothing to do with my actual weight or body shape. And everything to do with my mental health, which is, at best, shitty.

Yours, too? Yeah. I’m not well and neither are you. Nor is she. He. Them. Not to mention our therapists.

Flora’s medical team, notably her psychologist and our family therapist, fuck up big time last week. I lose it with them in a pretty spectacular way. Hang up in a fire of righteous anger that has still not burnt out.

Later, while not letting go of the anger—it’s still burning, hot—I recognize that everything I’m feeling? They’re feeling too. They’re not well either. Nobody is. So how can we help each other?


Over the weekend, we hold the first YYC Queer Writers meet-up since COVID. Via Zoom, still, cause half of us are waiting on post-protest COVID-19 tests (we are a cohort of socially responsible anti-racists and anarchists) and the other half don’t have the energy or will to leave the house or couch. We love each other and hold space for each other… and almost all of us break down.

I remember thinking, writing, when all of this started that the fact of this being a communal, global crisis rather than my personal tragedy helped. It kept me from navel-gazing and drowning in personal sorrow as I had the year we were trying to save Flora’s life.

I lied.

This is worse. Broken people helping broken people, mutual salvation stories? It’s the stuff of films and fantasies. Empty people attempting to fill their wells from other empty people end up drinking sand.

Yesterday’s meal, coats my gums, tongue, saliva even though I’ve brushed my teeth, once, twice, thrice. It tastes like sand.


The sun is out and it’s a beautiful day. Yesterday, there was rain, hail, flash flooding and a tornado warning. I looked at the pictures from around the city on my phone and then, the rising level of water in our alley—“Are we going to have to evacuate again?” Ender asked., “We need to go clear the drain, Mom, now, hurry,” and there we were, in the alley, clearing debris off the storm drain so the torrents of rain would have a place to go.

And I thought—no more. Seriously, you throw one more thing at me this year—I fucking quit, no more, no more.

We don’t flood or suffer hail damage, but other parts of the city aren’t as lucky.

I think about them, helpless. What if they felt like me—no more, one more thing, and I fucking quit—and then, one more thing, fist-size hail stones breaking house windows?

No more. I’ve got nothing left to deal with this. I quit.

I know you feel this too. And many of you are going through much worse things than I am. I have work—not stable work, mind you, thanks, Jason Kenney, for delivering on all your election promises to eviscerate education, appreciate it—but still. For now, work. And, despite the incompetence of her therapists, Flora is doing well. Cinder is working and thriving. Ender is love. The call just came—I don’t have COVID-19, so there’s that. Also, even if I ever get it—I have a robust immune system and I’ll probably just have the sniffles. Of course, I did just see the other day that obesity is one of the contributing risk factors to complications and death. And I am now fat—need to stop eating. On the other hand, a few weeks in a hospital bed—I could use the rest. Death? I probably wouldn’t die and if I did—honestly, kitten, right now, it’s difficult to get motivated about living, so, you know. We must all die sometime.

This is bad. Right? You do not want mothers, people with responsibilities—the normally resilient people who get shit done, who keep calm and carry on and do all the things to think like that, do you?

I think about this, a lot: if things are this hard for me right now, how hard must they be for people with no house security, no food security? For those families who have lost family members to COVID-19—run-of-the-mill cancers—police violence—domestic violence?

What I don’t think about, much: the future. Do you ? Can you visualize it? It eludes me, and that’s frightening. So I turn my attention to what I can control.

I feel fat. I feel the flesh on my belly, my ass and it repulses me. I can control that, make that disappear.

I can stop eating.

My form of self-violence, self-harm.

Deep breath.

An act of immense will: I eat some chocolate as if it were a Communion wafer and take the dogs and Flora for a walk in the sunshine instead.




Turning No into Yes: Jane gets played big time

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Setting, foot path in our off-leash dog park. Actors: Jane. The kids. Dogs in background. Random stranger on foot path.

Random stranger on foot path: Are those dog treats?

…and I look at her, and I look at the metal bowl in my hand, and I chew and swallow, and say:

Jane: Um, no, chocolate chips.

RSOFP: Oh. You feed your dog chocolate chips? I thought chocolate was bad for dogs?

Jane: Um… yeah, these are for me.

…and this is the moment where she gives me The Look, and I feel the urge to explain that we were all out of all other chocolate in the house, see, no bars, no individually wrapped Hershey kisses, nothing left in the Hallowe’en or Easter stash, nothing except for baking chocolate chips, and it’s sort of warm out, and if I had just taken a had a handful of them on the walk, they would melt and be all gross and squishy, so of course I’m carrying them in a bowl…

…but then I realize that there is nothing I can tell her that transforms me from the “the crazy lady with bowl of chocolate chips I met on the hill,” a central character in a story she’ll be telling all and sundry soon. In fact, if she’s a blogger, she’s already composing the story in her head. And if she’s not, she’s trying to encapsulate me in 140 characters for Twitter. Or for her Facebook status update…

So I just keep on chewing and walking.

Question: But why were you going for a walk with a bowl of chocolate chips?

You really want to know? Perhaps that’s the point of the story, in fact. See, it started like this:

Cinder: Mom? Can we go out for burgers at Peter’s Drive-In tonight?

Jane: No, baby, not tonight.

Cinder: Why not? What were you planning for supper tonight?

Jane: Um… planning… um… well… let me think about it, ok? I’m not saying yes–but let me think about it.

Cinder: And see, Ender, this is why, whenever an adult says, ‘No,’ it’s worth your white to ask, ‘Why not.’ But it can’t be a whiny, high pitched ‘Why not’ like you use when you usually say you want something. It has to be this very calm, reasonable ‘Why not,’ and then you kind of make Bambi eyes while you do it…

Jane: Jesus, Cinder, I’m right here! If you’re going to give your brother lessons in how to manipulate his parents, shouldn’t you wait until we can’t here?

Cinder: It’s kind of more fun to do it in front of you. And then, Ender, if you really want to seal the deal, you offer the Mom some chocolate…

Flora: One step ahead of you, bro. There you go, Mom. Sorry, we’re all out of the good stuff, but I found the chocolate chips. And I even put them in a bowl for you.

And that’s why I was on the foot path, with the dog and assorted children, and a bowl of chocolate chips. Which they didn’t attempt to share at all.

And as we are nearing home:

Cinder: So, what do you think, Mom? Peter’s–where, even if we all get milkshakes, it’ll be less than $40 or so, and no need to tip, or sushi? The last time we had sushi, it was like $102 with tip and tax, wasn’t it? So, what do you think?

Goddammit. Little manipulative beasts.

What do you think they had for supper that night?

Some fun recent stuff from Undogmatic Unschoolers:

How wrestling, Lego and Star Wars all help raise readers

Growing readers, organically

A sample of what I’ve been doing for a living lately: Making productivity measures sound sexy. Or at least… funny.

P.S. I might have a chocolate addiction. Fine. So be it.

P.P.S. Bloggy friends, I will be back in commenting form as soon as it starts raining from the sky, and not from the clients. I’m going to try to hop here today:

…cause some of my favourite people hang out there, so if the world cooperates, I will see you at your cyberspaces today. Fingers crossed… xoxo Jane

More proof we all raise the children we deserve…

…or, at least, proof that I’m raising the children I’m raising. You know what I mean:


Cinder: Here, Mom, eat this.

Jane: Oh, sweetie, chocolate. Thank you. What’s this for?

Cinder: Well, you look kind of sad and cranky, and I thought I’d apply the chocolate proactively instead of after you yell at us. Clever eh?


Jane: I’m sorry, Ender, I’m just not myself today. A little sad.

Ender: Oh, don’t be sad, my mama, I love you too much.

And yeah, she’s a little better right away. Who wouldn’t be?


Flora: Mom? You know what we should do tonight? Leave the boys to watch a movie with Daddy, put on some lipstick and go to the library.

Jane: Oh yeah?

Flora: Yeah. I think it’s what we both need. Now, where’s your lipstick?

Jane: This isn’t just a plot so you get to put on some lipstick, is it?

Flora: No. It’s a plot to get away from the boys. Have you not been here today? They’re freakin’ annoying!

Box of Chocolates

Sort of like this, but not really: Are your children the way they are because they’re unschooled?

AND DID I MENTION (oh, yes I did. Well, here I go again): I’ve got a guest post today at Oh Boy Mom, Go have a peek. It’s about learning to value gender stereotypes… when they happen to be true for your children.