… started and ended in tears, but in-between, it was a good, good day. It flowed. Isn’t that kind of amazing?
… was a hard day. I struggled—to focus, to breathe, to do. I took Ender swimming, drank in his joy. Made a good supper. Struggled. If you ask me about what, why—I can’t even really tell you. It was just a hard, hard day.
I’m reading Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag life. Also, Karen S. Wiesner’s Writing the Fiction Series and Jesse Warren Tevelow’s Authorpreneur.
Meh. I don’t know.
Mostly, I think despite writing about them for the better part of two decades… I’m not an entrepreneur. And I’m not an entertainer either.
I’m not so sure, today, Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way Koolaid notwithstanding, that I am an artist.
Who am I?
Natalie is writing… memoir. Again. As always. I lie in memoir. Again, as always. So I suspect everyone else does too. But maybe she doesn’t. Maybe it’s all true. Maybe she really remembers things like this… (She doesn’t. It’s all story. I know.)
But—there are some true things there. She really loves, loves, loves some of the places she has lived in. Taos, New Mexico in particular. (She writes as if she loves them—which is more or less the same thing, as far as the reader and posterity and manufactured history is concerned.)
I wonder what it would be like to really love… a place.
I don’t love my city. I don’t mind it. Sometimes (not in February or March, or this fucking snowy April, why?), I like it, a lot.
But this city? Not so much. Have I loved any place I’ve ever lived?
I tell people I loved Montreal. But I didn’t, not really.
Today, I don’t love anything. It’s one of those days.
The day will end.
Maybe, as it ends, in the end, I will love. Or. Cry.
Sleep. Will Wednesday be better?
Thursday starts with a disappointment. No, that’s not quite true: Thursday starts with my morning pages, this habit Julia Cameron inculcated in me about four years ago now. And say what you will about Julia (there are moods in which no one is more critical of her than I), in the four years since I’ve been doing morning pages, I’ve written four novels, dozens if not hundreds of poems, and my creative non-fiction output has been… beyond steady.
So Thursday morning starts with my morning pages. Then the disappointment. I text you to share it—Julia taught me that too. Before her, I used to suffer alone and be proud of it. You say, this time, all the right things. Almost.
You: What did I do wrong this time?
Jane: It doesn’t matter. You tried.
You offer to come over, to offer solace in person. I refuse. I don’t want you to hold my hand while I weep. I don’t even want to weep. I have plans for the day—a routine and tasks—and I don’t want them derailed by a text, an unplanned disappointment… or even your visit.
When I make decisions like this, you sometimes think I don’t love you. It’s not that at all. It’s just that… I know I have to follow my schedule, my planned rhythm. Today HAD to be a work day. I am two weeks, more, behind because of my illness. So. Thursday, I work. I am disciplined, and that soothes me much more than talking with you about what sucks would.
In the granola-New Age-voodoo circles that I move in, people place a high value on flexibility and spontaneity. They equate them with creativity and freedom, and they define freedom as lack of structure, lack of planning, lack of… routine.
I value freedom too. But I define it different. Not as a lack of constraint or structure. Nor as chaos. Freedom is… the freedom to do the work, live the life I want to live—the passion I want to embody.
And that kind of freedom requires discipline.
Internal discipline. Self-discipline.
My self-discipline manifests in routines, rituals, commitments to self… and following through on those commitments.
I like a touch of chaos, too, of course. There is a lot of chaos, creativity, unpredictability in my life. But what makes my life and its creative chaos possible—makes me thrive in it—is routine and discipline.
Morning pages. Coffee. Work sprint one—do day’s critical task here. Breakfast. Shower. Meditation. Reading with Ender. Work sprint two, the less-creative-but-necessary-task—these are the anchors of my morning, the building blocks of my morning routine. They make it possible for me to be FREE to take two hours of the middle of my afternoon to go to the Y, to my culty yoga… or to spend the afternoon smoking sheesha and staring out a window… Return to chores, kids, and work sprint three (mundane tasks) in the hours that abut prepping supper or cleaning up after it.
Flora’s martial class, three times a week. Chore? No. Routine. Focused one-on-one time with my girl—sometimes all she gets from me, that time in the car, but sometimes, that’s all she wants, needs. And for me: an hour and a half, every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday to write-read-proof-reflect.
The Y on Monday and Friday, Kundalini yoga on Wednesday and Saturday.
Have you noticed, though, that when people say, “You’re so disciplined!” it’s this odd compliment? They’re not sure if they’re giving you (me) a compliment… or telling you (me) that you’re boring.
Freedom to do what you want, if you what you end up doing is squandering your time and passion and talent, is worthless.
You: I’m not mad you didn’t want to see me on Thursday.
What was this little segue about?
interlude: The Great Spring
It will not stop snowing in Calgary—no one has told the weather gods that it’s April and for fuck’s sake, enough with the unique snowflakes, give us some boring, same-everyday sun and some green grass and leaves and shit, will you?
I’m still reading Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and the Zig Zag of Life.
I start reading it on Monday, and it disappoints me. I don’t like it. I bitch to Sean about how all Natalie knows to write is these stupid memoir vignettes (and who wants to read those?), self-indulgent blog posts really (shut up), and who is she to be a writing teacher anyway? She’s only written one novel. And nobody’s read it. It’s probably bad.
Sean shuts me down. Not intentionally—I think he’s a) trying to be fair to the Great Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones who changed the way writing is taught in North America and b) trying to redirect me from what we both know is a destructive unproductive place: envy, resentment, anger, defensiveness, insecurity.
I turn my anger and resentment towards him and to go bed crying. And hating Natalie and the literary establishment that made her god. With only one crappy novel under her belt.
But I keep on reading the book.
I finish it on Wednesday, and by Thursday, I think it’s good. I also realize that for Natalie, writing is not what it is for me. It is, in the end, a spiritual practice for her. Another way of reaching Zen. Enlightenment. Ironically—for one who is a writing teacher—writing is not really about communicating. Sharing with an audience. That purpose of writing is, to Natalie Goldberg, secondary.
But I think our commitment to practice—writing practice—is similar. In one of the closing chapters of the book, “Lost Purse,” students ask Natalie for… what else, the secret to writing.
The students say:
“I have to be trust myself!”
“I have to have courage.”
“Speak from my heart.”
Crinkles her nose.
“No. No. No. Not even close. It’s not about how you feel.”
“You. Have. To. Pick. Up. The pen—and write. Just. Write.”
“For years, that’s all I’ve been saying. If it’s hot out, write in the heat. If it’s cold, pull on a sweater and write. … Act. … Writing doesn’t ask you to be any different from who you are right now. Not better. Not more.”
I finally feel myself. Awake. Mind sharp. My faith in my capabilities mostly back. My demons, caged.
Funny, you know, I use a few metaphors with my demons—in all of them, they are contained. Not banished. Not invisible—I am not safe when I can’t see them. No, I’m safest and happiest when they’re caged—not lurking in the shadows of the edges of my consciousness. Caged, contained—the cage is my will. They exist. I acknowledge them. I see them—I put them in the cage. The lock on the cage, what is it?
I suppose it’s discipline.
Back to discipline again.
Such a loaded word these days. Perhaps it always was.
I often wonder—is it an innate quality or something that needs to be—that can be—cultivated? When does discipline—of the self—morph into self-repression? Or inflexible near-OC behaviour?
Why am I thinking about this?
I guess because I’m planning, effectively, a 31-month—33? maybe 36 actually… fuck, my math sucks, probably even more… 40?—a 31+ month experiment that will require more sustained discipline than I’ve deployed in my life for a while. Can I do it?
Sean says cautious things.
Jane: You don’t think I can do it.
Sean: That is not what I said!
Ok. It isn’t. But that’s what I heard. And it’s fair. What I’m planning is bigger, x7, and longer, x10, and scarier, and harder than all the crazy shit I’ve done so far, and it requires a tenfold leap of faith and…
You: Can you just tell us what you’re planning?
Jane: No. I don’t want your advice. God knows I don’t need a reality check. Or input from—excuse me—lay people. Full of opinions but no experience.
You: What are you saying?
Jane: Your opinion and input will carry no weight with me.
Jane: And I can’t afford to be infected by your fear or doubt.
You: Like I said—bitch.
Whatever. I prefer… self-aware.
speaking of self-aware
I’m taking a course that requires me to take the Myers-Briggs / Jungian personality test.
I come out an almost perfect midline personality (I’m also, btw, on every test I’ve ever taken, 51/49 right-brained and left-brained):
- Introverted (I) 61.11% Extroverted (E) 38.89%
- Intuitive (N) 53.66% Sensing (S) 46.34%
- Feeling (F) 55.88% Thinking (T) 44.12%
- Judging (J) 53.33% Perceiving (P) 46.67%
Except, as you see, the introvert is in some ascendance over the extrovert. (If you want to take the free version of the test, btw, here ya go: http://similarminds.com/jung_old.html
Jung, by the way, coined the terms Introvert and Extrovert, as well as synchronicity. Jung was an introvert, and Freud was an extrovert, and there you probably have the root cause of their break-up.
All week, I’m reading The Introverted Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success On Your Own Terms by Beth L. Buelow.
Introverts are internal processors. Their primary source of information and point of reference comes from within themselves. This doesn’t mean that they are self-absorbed or oblivious to others: they simply rely first and foremost on their inner thoughts to guide them. … When an introvert receives information, she takes it in and flips it around in her mind until it’s right side up enough to be shared with the world.
I’m not always an introvert. But I’m always an internal processor.
Sean: I know.
I’m also reading Seth Godin’s We Are All Weird: The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal
and I find myself thinking that, ultimately, there are two kinds of people. People obsessed with slotting everyone into Category A and Category B…
…and people who think Category A and Category B aren’t sufficient. Should we perhaps subdivide Category A into A1, A2, A3, A4 and so forth?
I want to be neither.
You: Unique snowflake.
Jane: I want to recognize and worship everyone as a unique snowflake.
You: That doesn’t sound like you.
Jane: You don’t really know me.
…the landscape of you and me
When I am still feeling ery said and sick and unsupported, I text with my friend the practicing Buddhist almost-monk. Er, nun. About life, sex, relationships, dharma.
“You’re brilliant and adorable and wonderful and everything is going to work out perfectly. Smooch snuggle kiss.”
“What would happen if there was nothing to fix, nothing wrong, nothing ‘fucking complicated’ about you?”
Jane: I would be terribly boring and that would be even worse.
I want to be a unique snowflake.
Demons: You are utterly ordinary.
*I also take the DISC test. Here are my scores:
- Dominance 40%
- Influence 47.5%
- Steadiness 52.3%
- Compliance 45%
- And here’s where you can find yours: https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/ODAT/
week versus day
When I am having a bad day, I will sigh and cry, “Will this day never end!” And, when it is a very very bad day (like the Wednesday of Week 12), I will actually go into bed, turn off the lights, pull the covers over my head, and wait for the day to be over.*
*I have three children, of course, so this is generally a figurative rather than a literal act.
When it’s a bad week… month… you can’t do that.
Anyway. It wasn’t a bad week. Or even a rough week. It just had some… you know. Rough spots. Bad thoughts.
You: And that disappointment.
Jane: It’s all good. I’m already over that. It’s Sunday.
I was happy on Wednesday. Productive on Thursday and Friday. Playful among all the chores on Saturday.
But I’m looking forward to Monday. My mini New Year. Blank slate.
I do want to tell you that this week, I was a very present mother and I experienced minimal guilt. Ender and I read every day—with a view to him mastering the art, not just at bedtime. I sprayed Bactine on Flora’s had when she cut it falling down in the alley and I paid attention to her fully when I played her chauffeur. I encouraged Cinder to NOT rush into his math test until he understood the material, and I helped him figure out how to identify the range of a quadratic equation (thank you, Khan Academy, fuck you, official math textbook). Ender and I went swimming, too. Everyone seems happy, thriving.
Can I sustain THAT for 31-36-40 months?
And I can’t start until I believe the answer is yes.
Jane: Shut up.
You: Also, hypocrite.
Jane: Fuck off.
I know… I know… the secret. Chunk it. Think in segments. Days—weeks—months (hours and minutes). Chapters—scenes—paragraphs—sentences—words.
But I need to see and trust and commit to the big picture.
You: Well, I think you should…
Jane: Shut up. I did tell you, did I not? I don’t want your advice.
I’m just sharing some of doubt and process and demons because I’m tired of you thinking I have no feelings.
But that’s another story.
Ender: Mama! Tortilla?
It’s the sixth cheese tortilla I’m making him today…
When Flora says “I’m bored,” she means her demons are rattling the cage and she needs to be held and loved and told she exists and is an important, unique snowflake.
Ender’s code phrase is “I’m hungry.” When he says he’s hungry, he means “I need you to show me that I’m important to you and that you will take care of me.”
So while, when Flora says, “I’m hungry,” I can tell her to eat an apple or go scavenge in the fridge, when Ender says, “I’m hungry,” I have to make him the fucking tortilla.
And not grumble if he doesn’t eat it all.
It’s sort of a metaphor.
These days, though, he’s going through a growth spurt, so he eats most of the love I make for him.
When Cinder experience existential angst, he punches holes in the walls, runs up and down the hallway, or throws himself on the floor and cries.
He’s the kid I understand best.
(I leave it to you to slot us into the Introvert/Extrovert categories if you like)
I love them all so much it hurts.
speaking of pain
I’m now 100% sure the Buddha was wrong about pain, suffering, and desire. Cowardly rather than enlightened, actually. So is that… a meditation fail? Or my own enlightenment?
Sean’s trying to diplomatically describe to Flora why we don’t spend a lot of time with a family with whom it would be… convenient, let us say, for us to have more of a relationship with.
Sean: In case you haven’t noticed, they don’t really share our hippie lifestyle.
Flora: Wait. We’re hippies?
Sean: The only reason we don’t live in a tent on Vancouver Island and shit in a hole in the woods is because I’m here.
Flora: OMG, you’re right. I never thought about it. If it was up to Mom, we’d be like Pippa’s family and travel around the world in a camper van, wouldn’t we?
Ok, so that’ s been my dream since I’ve been, like, 12, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it happen with them for years, and those three months in Cuba were the closest I managed to come to it, and…
Flora: I love you so much, Dad.
Flora: I love you too, Mom. But you know what else I love?
Cinder: Toilet paper and flushing toilets?
Ungrateful bastards. (For context, see POSTCARDS FROM CUBA)
On Saturday, a stranger from Egypt helps me articulate an odd truth about myself,* we put together Cinder’s bed,** and Sean and I take a trip to the 1920s, where I taste Virginia Woolf (she’s too sweet, I tell the bartender, and he sours her with a twist of lemon) and Sean puts Daisy Buchanan to his lips.
*It’s not an epiphany, exactly, but it’s this…
You: Another thing you’re not going to share?
Jane: No, you can hear this one.
I don’t expect people to be there tomorrow.
Ponder the implications of that for a minute or two…
**When I say we… I guess I really mean Sean and Cinder, although I helped carry things up and down the stairs, and cleaned the gooey corners in the teenager’s room.
Also, there was this:
Cinder: Mom! We lost a dowel! Where is it?
Seriously. How the fuck should I know?
But. Here’s the thing:
Jane: It fell on the second landing—I’ve put it in your room on the Lego shelf next to the castle!
Sean: We need the vacuum cleaner!
Jane: It’s broken! Broom?
Sean: No! Gum and a pencil!
I’ll leave the “why” to your very capable inference capabilities.
i really said this to my son
Jane: While you’re up and I’m here sitting on my ass, could you get me my Guinness from the fridge?
Cinder: Doesn’t it have wheat it in?
Jane: It’s my binge day.
Cinder: Isn’t it illegal for me to get you alcohol?
Jane: I can’t send you to the liquor store to buy me beer. I can send you to the fridge.
Cinder: It still sounds sketchy.
Jane: For fuck’s sake just get me my beer!
I know exactly what I want.
And how to get it.
Oh, if only I could package that feeling in a pill, tonic, or mantra…
PS This week, I’d like to give the last word to Seth Godin. Two non-sequiturs, but they connect dots for me:
“Some people are more comfortable believing that there are no edges, that everywhere is like it is right here. That they are normal, that everyone is normal, and that ignorance is bliss. If everyone could just be normal (like them), they’d be happier.”
“I’m running out of patience for people who would further their personal or media goals by dividing us in exchange for a cheap point or a few votes. If members of a tribe encourage schisms and cheer on the battles, is it any wonder that it’s hard to create forward motion? When we’re not in sync, power is dissipated.”
Seth Godin, We are All Weird: The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal
—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA
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