Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

monday

I.

…looked a lot like Sunday except I DID ALL THE THINGS ID DIDN’T WANT TO DO.

Well, one category of them, anyway.

Yay, me.

Also, Ursula Le Guin died and I spent much of the day loving her.

Here are two of my favourite ULG features from BrainPickings:

II.

Michelle Obama is coming to town as a guest of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on March 23. The cheap seats are $200 and I’ve spent so much imaginary money lately, I can’t tell you… There’s no way. I can’t. I won’t.

Facebook message from my dad:

I will gift you Michelle’s Obama ticket! Happy Birthday! Something changes within you when you meet great, good people! Love You!

The mantra I am practicing, do you remember, my sankalpa, is:

I ask for what I need. It comes to me.

I accept it with reverence and gratitude.

I accept.

With reverence and gratitude.

III.

We carve out a night of pleasure in the middle of obligation and chaos, and it is good.

tuesday

Up at 5 am but back in bed before six. A phone call. Another. Coffee. Burritos. More? Cheese tortilla? Fine. Lunch and second lunch for everyone—the interviews I need to conduct happen in-between.

We have to get Cinder to a math test across town. Car2Go or Uber? The little smart cars get stuck in the snowbanks; their tiny tires are useless on the ice.

Uber.

The driver’s name is Michael. The car smells like dog. But we’re on time.

A text from the back seat of the Uber:

Jane: Have to take C for his math final—I kicked out the boys, because Flora’s too cranky to supervise them both. They’re heading to your place. Or the Common.

A response from my neighbour:

np — They’re here now. Don’t worry.

I love my hood; I love my tribe.

Cinder’s test runs for 2 hours and 45 minutes. I read a billionaire romance—for work, not pleasure. It should be both, but it’s not—it hurts. This female fantasy of someone with bottomless pockets to take care of ME so that I don’t have to worry about… bills, job, LIFE… it’s so shaming, it’s so disempowering, it’s so relatable…

Do you ever, btw, wonder what rich people worry about?

You: Money.

Jane: True. I guess… there’s never enough.

What an awful, awful thought. Ugh.

I pretend to work in the cold high school hallway. So cold. Sterile. It smells funny. It’s a little re-traumatizing. Why do we make these spaces in which our children, your young people spend so many hours so… aesthetically bankrupt?

You: You’ve seen what office cubicles look like, right?

Right.

Sean checks in with me as I slog through the romance. Reports on Action: Feeding the Children.

Sean: I fed Flora pierogies. Cinder can have a frozen pizza, and I think Ender’s supper is going to be ham buns.

I end up making him another burrito when Cinder and I get back home after his test, with 30 minutes to spare before I have to take Flora to her martial arts class. Our Uber drive’s name is Emil and he pronounces my name correctly and triest to catch my eye as he does so—he wants me to comment on it, he wants to tell me where he’s from. His story. But I can’t. Suddenly, I have a deficit of words and thoughts and feelings, and I sink into the backseat of his RAV4, Cinder beside me, in silence.

Cinder’s not sure he passed his test. “It was difficult,” he says. “I didn’t remember everything. There were a lot of questions where I just didn’t know…”

I find words. And they’re good ones.

The driver smiles at me in the rearview mirror. I smile back. He’s just told me he’s a parent; no words necessary.

The drive to Flora’s martial arts class and back—always, these days, in a car borrowed from one neighbour or another—is all the focused attention my Unicorn gets from me these days. We talk a lot about pop music.

Flora: There haven’t been any good new songs for a while. Weeks. Months.

I agree.

“Hotel California” comes on.

Jane: I like this one, still.

A throwback not to my teenhood or childhood, but to my parents’ teenhood, childhood.

Flora rolls her eyes. She doesn’t say, “You’re so lame, Mom.” But she thinks it; no words necessary.

Back home. So late, so tired. Sean’s cleaned the kitchen before leaving for the night—I don’t send him a thank you text but I think it.

Ender’s ready for bed.

Where’s the electric toothbrush?

Fuck, we need a new toothpaste.

Jane: Calvin & Hobbes?

Ender: Yes… We were… here…

We read Calvin & Hobbes—I remember I forgot to let the dog back in after I let her out to pee—“Flora! Check on Maggie!”—“Mom! How could you! She’s frozen!”—lights out—bedtime.

I sit beside Ender until his breath tells me he’s asleep.

Kiss the foreheads of the other two.

Think about reading; I have this book on my phone:

…and I’m still not done re-reading The Great Work of Your Life, but the billionaire romance has sapped me.

Sleep.

wednesday

I.

Sean’s first day of his new job. Squee!

Jane: I’m so excited! Text me at lunch to tell me how it’s going!

Flora: What’s going on?

Jane: We have a job! Benefits! Money coming into the bank account on a regular basis!

Flora: Dad has a job. We just spend his money.

Ok. I don’t want to tell you I lose it with her here. But I do.

Her words feel like a slap.

An undoing of EVERYTHING I’ve tried to teach, model, live.

I deliver a scathing post-post-modernist feminist anti-capitalist critique of what she said, the insiduous, unexamined thoughts behind it, and how thinking like that harms women, men, children, families and the world we live in.

Then I burst into tears. And stomp off.

Behind me, I hear Sean murmur, “You know your mom works, right? Harder than I do? And makes money? And we’re all in this together?”

They do and they don’t, I suppose. At the end of the day… they don’t see my work. They don’t see me leave for work.

And I’m the one who makes the fucking burritos for lunch.

Not always. Of course. Not always.

But.

Fuck.

Is that all Flora sees?

II.

Possessed, I reorganize the whole entire main floor. For once, this is not an act of procrastination. I have until Monday to file these two easy, easy easy stories—they’re totally written in my head anyway—that other thing I’ve drafted… it needs to marinate a bit.. I am not putting off anything important in order to scrub the floor and baseboards and drag the couch out of living room and into the kitchen.

Cinder: Love what you’ve done with the place.

Jane: Shut up.

Cinder: Should I test Dad and warn him you’re about to start a new book?

Jane: Fuck off.

Cinder: Should I help you move this couch over the bump?

Jane: Yes.

Cinder: I wonder what it would be like to grow up with normal parents.

Jane: Boring.

Wow.

My new space.

It looks really really good.

I’ve very happy.

I love beautiful spaces, places, things.

People.

III

It’s 8 pm and dark and cold, and Sean’s holding the stepladder and helping me climb into our community dumpster. He’s using my phone as a flashlight, and I’m really grateful that we now have compost garbage. I’m mostly stepping on broken toys. An old car seat.

We’re here because mid-day, I scored Cinder a new office chair. A beautiful $150 or maybe even $600 office chair that was no longer good enough for the accountant who occasionally used it. Unfortunately, in the process of wheeling it home over the ice, I busted one of the wheels.

Meanwhile, Cinder had exchanged his totally busted “this chair is trying to kill me” gaming chair for one of the arm chairs I moved out of the kitchen while making room for the couch.

He tossed the gaming chair into the dumpster. Its wheels fell off.

Its wheels would work perfectly well on the chair I just acquired.

See?

Anyway.

Dumpster.

Sean: See, this is the difference between being married and dating. This is not the kind of thing you do with strangers you meet on the Internet.

Jane: I suppose by the time you get to this stage, you’re not strangers anymore.

Sean: I see it!

I see another one. Five chair wheels acquired. Score!

Sean pulls me out of the dumpster as a neighbour’s car rolls past.

There’s something unexpectedly romantic about our brief walk home from the dumpster.

But when we tell Flora what we were doing, there’s only one thing on her mind.

Flora: So who gets the new  chair?

thursday

One of those days.

Process journal: “I feel lazy and dumb.”

But it ends with a bang.

Thank you, #writertribe.

Also, the Michelle Obama tickets go on sale.

Thank you, Dad.

friday

…starts with a surprise. Hello, shiny thing. Oh. Goodbye, shiny thing?

The unifying thread that runs through the Buddhist-Vedic-Mindfulness-As-Secular-Religion crap stuff books (just fucking write books!!) I’m reading right now is one of impermanence.

Transience.

Freedom and happiness, or at least tranquility =  freedom from attachment.

I really, really struggle with this because… I WANT. Oh, gods, yes. I DESIRE. CRAVE.

I love. I care.

I throw all of myself into everything I pursue. My work, kids, loves, community…

If I’m lukewarm about it… half-hearted? I just… don’t do it…

I’ve equated freedom from attachment with… detachment.

And I’ve been detached, and, honestly, my love, when I’m detached, I might as well be dead. You might as well be dead—I don’t give a fuck what happens to you…

That’s a terrible feeling. It’s emotional death. What person in their right mind would want to pursue it?

Ender: Mama mama mama I love you, and I’m never ever going to let you go.

Jane: Good.

I love love love him too. Except… I’m going to have to let him go. It’s easy to forget, not see it with him, yet. But his almost 16 year-old brother? His 13 year-old sister?

Loving them right now is 90% about letting them go.

Cinder: 99%.

Jane: Give me 10%. I’m driving you to your fucking finals.

Letting them go does not diminish my love for them. It even, perhaps, intensifies it.

(This is the magic, you know, of maternal love. This gross squishy wailing pooping peeing thing exits your body, enter your life—and you overflow, drown in love. And think—I can’t possibly be feeling something this big, this intense. How can there be more? And yet there is more. And more. And more.)

Attachment.

Detachment.

Passion.

Letting go.

Fucking mystics, why do they make everything so complicated?

In re-reading Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life, I have a glimmer of what it is they mean, maybe. Cope is paraphrasing the Bhagavad Gita’s prescription for happiness (or at least a meaningful life).

It has four pillars:

  1. Look to your dharma. (Purpose in life.)
  2. Do it full out.
  3. Let go of the outcome.
  4. Turn it over to god.

Number four is hard for an atheist—the internal dialogue goes something like ths: “There is no God, gods. The Universe is an intricate, amazing thing, but if I say, ‘Turn it over to the Universe,’ Bill Nye will come and kick my ass and, really, it just means the same thing. So turn it over to who, what?” and I spin and spiral and spin and spiral and I just let it go and go back to focusing on numbers two and three.

  1. Do it full out.

Yes. Fucking watch me.

  1. Let go of the outcome.

Really? How?

Can I?

Sometimes, I do.

And I know this—“let go of the outcome”—is a true, powerful thing. These two principles:

Do it full out

Let go of the outcome

–they are true. For me, anyway. When I do it (whatever it is) FULL OUT without craving an outcome beyond… DOING THE THING—when I DO IT—love you, love her, write this, do THAT—because it is the thing that my being knows needs to bed one and I don’t think abou the result—will you love me? will the story be good? will we succeed?—I am… happy isn’t even an adequate word.

I AM.

I AM.

Anyway.

Let go of the outcome.

Working on it.

saturday

productive morning, meandering mid-day, strange evening, restless night

I write about habits, context, credentials.

sunday

I try to write, and at some point actually do—finish my deadline work.

Don’t finish my “I’m exploring this idea, where will it go work.” Abandon it, actually.

But I end up spending some time with Sylvia Boorstein again, thinking about what she calls “kind speech.” (The Buddha, apparently, said “wise speech.” She likes kind speech better; softer now than I was even a year ago, I agree.)

That kind of speech, she writes, s “true and helpful and gentle.”

She adds, it “makes the mind feel safe and also glad.”

Also, this:

“When I am privy to disparaging critiques, even when they are not directed at me, I feel unnerved and my mind is roused into protective mode. I think of it as a basic survival response and I’m glad I have it so I can run away from real danger.”

But living in protective mode… it’s really, really draining.

Suddenly, I understand what my core issue with Facebook is.

I used to love it, after all. Defend it.

And now I’m trying to figure out how to pursue my career, goals… without it.

Interesting.

So interesting.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Check this out:

… How very Victorian, Bernard. Of you, I expected no less. But Maria… with you, I am disappointed. Let’s file this under “research” … and ponder it a little. It fits so very well with my current projects…

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

Proofing, planning, priorities, postcards

nbtb-proofing-2

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

Jane: Don’t talk to me. I’m proofing.

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

nbtb-proofing-3

In the meantime…

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

Cinder: I miss lunch. Lunch was good.

Ender: What’s lunch?

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

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

Jane: Yes!

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

Jane: Yes!

Her: Have you eaten anything today?

Jane: …

nbtb-proofing-9

I’ll eat soon.

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

You: What the fuck are you, a squirrel?

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

nbtb-proofing-5

Confession: I love this.

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

So there you go.

nbtb-proofing-1

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

You: You love it.

Jane: I hate you. Shut up.

Or, just bring me chocolate.

*

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

You: Because you missed me?

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

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

So. Beloved.

nbtb-proofing-6

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

On November 9: a riff on racism.

On November 16: facts of life.

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

On November 30: “I miss you today.”

nbtb-proofing-4

There.

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

Deadlines.

The only way anything gets done.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-proofing-7

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

*

nbtb-proofing-banner

A “lost” year: on standing still, moving forward, stepping back

Come. Come in. I have something I want to show you. Here, over here: this box. That one. And that pile over there. Remember, I told you about them? My papers, my manuscripts, my letters. The record of my early creative life.

They’re all terribly, terribly bad. I mean—not just a little bad. God-awful. It’s hard to say what’s worse—the novel I wrote when I was 13 and the sheafs of heavy metal music-inspired poetry I churned out when I was 15 are probably absolutely the worst, although the novel I wrote when I was 16, and the one I started when I was 18 are pretty bad too.

There is no reason to save them, to hold on to them. They make me cringe, you know, when I look at them? They are so very, so very terribly, wonderfully bad.

They stink.

photo (1)

Flora: What are you doing, Mom?

Jane: I’m trying to write something that’s simultaneously truthful and not asshat pretentious, and failing miserably.

Flora: Oh. Are you going to be much longer? Because I need you to take me to the craft store to buy me more clay.

Jane: Yeah, ok. In a bit. Hold on. I’m trying to explain why I’ve spent an entire year tripping over boxes of molding, unreadable papers.

They actually do stink. I’m pretty sure they’re actively molding. Maybe, if I procrastinate long enough, the mold will finish what the flood started. Maybe, I’m waiting for a force of nature to take agency away from me again…

Cinder: Mom? What are you doing?

Flora: Ssssh. She’s writing about how she can’t throw out those stinky papers.

Cinder: Isn’t it because she’s lazy?

Jane: Silence, progeny. I’m wallowing in artistic existential angst here.

photo

There must be, I think, a part of me that enjoys the wallowing. That wants to stay here, looking at those boxes, looking at the curling edges, the black splotches, red splotches that used to be ink. There’s clearly a part of me that’s getting off on the drama of the destruction…

There’s also a part of me that’s really pleased that this early work is so fucking bad. You know? Wouldn’t it be terrible—it must be so terrible—to look at what you did 20, 30 years ago and say—that was my best work! Why can’t I write like that any more? What’s happened to me? Definitely not the issue here. Those boxes are not full of my best work.

But, but… they are this titillating record of potential. You know? That poem, the one you tried so hard not to read when separating the wet pages, but you did, and you laughed out loud at its pathos? It’s awful-bad, I know. But there’s that one phrase… you know? That one phrase… I like it still, and looking at it, I see the places it’s gone in the intervening 25 years, and I like that. And while I’m embarrassed by the overall badness of the piece… those four words in a row… they please me.

And I’m reluctant to let them go.

Ender: Moooooooooom! What are you doing? I need you!

Jane: I’m trying to explain why I’ve been stuck, unmoving, unproductive… why I’ve felt tethered, trapped by the past, unable to move into the future, paralyzed by what was, torn between denying it and embracing, obsessed with the idea and yet working really hard at not thinking about it, not dealing with it…

Ender: I’m hungry. And I need you to get my bike out of the shed. And I can’t find my shoes. And also, I think I pooped my pants.

Jane: Right. I should do something about all of those things. Just give me a few more minutes here…

Do I need to let them go? An impossible question. What would I have done, had the flood not rampaged through them? The most likely answer: nothing. They would have stayed in their boxes. Existing. Unexamined. For years, decades, a lifetime.

I don’t like being forced to examine them. Examine myself: who I was, what I thought, how I dreamed.

Flora: Mom? Are you still angsting?

Jane: Yes!

Cinder: Seriously? Do you want me to just go chuck them for you?

Jane: No!

Ender: Somebody! Needs! To! Clean! My! Bum!

I had this not-so-secret plan, after I failed to be able to deal with the remnants of the papers right after the flood (I burned my destroyed letters; I couldn’t touch the manuscripts), that I would mark the anniversary of the loss with a big, cleansing bonfire. I’d invite my writer friends, and we’d be all very solemn and supportive, and then get rip-roaring drunk, and we’d burn my past, and a new stage of uber-creativity would rise from the ashes…

photo 1

I know. Cliché. But, why not?

So here I am, a year later. And there they are, my boxes, my papers, my past. Still unexamined, unsalvaged. Neither discarded nor saved.

In limbo.

Me? I look back at this past year as, in many ways, a lost year. A year in which I both failed to move forward and didn’t have the ability to look back: a year in which I stood still. But maybe I had to. Maybe, for possibly the first time in my life, I just had to stand in place for a while…

Cinder: OMG, Mom, are you still writing about those stinky papers?

Flora: Hey! She’s a writer! That’s what she does! But could you please hurry up? We have things to do! Places to go!

Ender: I’m! Still! Poopy! And! Hungry!

Jane: Almost done. Almost done…

So. I’m not quite sure I’m done standing still. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe I need to stand still a little longer. Digest-marinate-process all that I was a little longer.

Cinder: Moooom!

But not for too much longer. Not forever. Because I have things to do. Places to go. Stories to write. A life to live.

My terrible-no-good poems and novels—and hey, here’s a short story I wrote in my 20s, and this one actually doesn’t totally suck… it’s not good, but it’s not god-awful either—my papers, I think, will stay in their purgatory for a little longer. Just a little longer. And when I’m ready to get moving again, I will let them go.

But not today.

No bonfire this year.

But, there will be a hell of a party…

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-A lost year

P.S. An invitation: If you’re in Calgary, you should spend some part of your weekend celebrating the one-year anniversary of the flood and Neighbour Day in one of the communities you helped to save. If you worked in Sunnyhill, our big celebration is on Saturday, June 21, from 5 p.m. on; the greater Sunnyside celebration is on Sunday, June 22, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the site of the Crisis Café.

If you have no idea what I’m blathering on about, YYC Flood 101:

Where have you been, Jane?” June 27, 2013

“Everything back to normal, Jane?” July 4, 2013

unLessons from the flood: we are amazing  July 9, 2013

Running on empty: why “so are things back to normal?” is not the right question October 29, 2013

A love letter to my flood plain, June 11, 2014