POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

For the great-grandfather I never knew.

Yesterday, I felt… heavy.

Today… well. Listen:


& read:


My great-grandfather Victor was an idealist and a card-carrying member of the Polish Communist Party. He ripped up his party membership card in 1945—the year, incidentally, that Americans and Western Europeans celebrate as the end of World War II, and Poles also mark as the first year of the 44-year Soviet occupation that followed our “liberation.”

While Americans were popping firecrackers and getting ready to pop out oodles of babies, Poland—much of the war ravaged Eastern and Central Europe—was struggling with food shortages, created as much by the state at that point as by the consequences of the war.

Everything was rationed.

And Party members got more.

My great-grandfather found himself in a queue at a bakery, behind a young mother who asked for a loaf of bread, and got refused

“What’s going on?” he demanded, flashing his Party ID.

“She’s already got her allotment for the week. Today, it’s extra bread, only for party members, sir,” the little man at the bakery window replied.

My great-grandfather ripped up his party ID card on the spot. (My mother, incidentally, and two of her four siblings inherited that impetuousness and temper.)

“That is not Communism,” he told the stogey. “Now sell me two loaves of bread.”

The little man sold him the bread—which my great-grandfather handed to the woman who was just refused food… because she did not belong to the Communist Party.

My father was, for several years, a card-carrying member of the Polish Communist Party too. His father made him sign up. “You’ll never get anywhere as an engineer if you’re not a party member,” he counseled. By then, it was the 1970s, and there were no idealist Communists left in the party, only opportunists.

More than 40 years later, my mother—who resisted every attempt to enlist her in the party, even though for a medical professional membership was mandatory—brings up this act when she’s fighting with my father and wants to play dirty.

My parents emigrated from Poland to Canada in 1984, mostly as economic/merit immigrants on the point system, with a subtext of “we’re seeking political asylum” in their application.

“We don’t want to raise our children under the Communist system,” my father wrote in response to the question “Why do you want to immigrate to Canada?”

In the 1980s, that was all you had to do to claim political asylum in the Western World if you were white and your government was Communist.

Since the Cuban revolution—and this is a quote from The Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act

“the United States is extra willing to accept Cuban citizens who are politically opposed to the Cuban government.”

All Cubans, who made it onto American soil via a barge across the straights of Miami—or an international flight from Bogota or Mexico City—had to do to claim political asylum in the US was touch American soil. The green card was virtually guaranteed a year later… although, it sure as hell helped if you were white. Or at least, you know, very pale mocha.



At first, I think Cuba killed its experiment with socialism when it introduced the CUC, when it started actively chasing tourists—when it showed its people, “OK, this way of living is good enough for you, but Western tourists, they have higher standards—they need air conditioning and a never-ending buffet table. Flush toilets. Modern buses.

Then I realize—no, it happened earlier, much earlier than that. It happened the first time Fidel Castro decided to keep an expropriated colonial house for himself—or for one of his friends.

9-Ruined Communism CUC


One day, I get lost in the west-end of Havana, a suburb that looks at first like Miami… and then a New Orleans slum.

Suddenly, I’m facing a chain link fence and a swimming pool and tidy little buildings.

“What’s this?” I ask a security guard.

“Vacation houses,” he answers.

“For whom?”

On the left, for the workers of such and such union, and on the right, for the workers of two other unions.

It’s sort of a nice concept, right?

Except… ok, see, another day, walking along the shoreline where Miramar slowly morphs into neighbourhoods tourists never visit, we accidentally “break in” to a recreational complex, reserved for the workers of another union. It’s on a stretch of beach that, pre-1959, used to be dominated by private clubs, casinos.

I’m not sure that “exclusively for United Widget Painters of Havana, Factory 17” is that much of an improvement, really.

But today, I am not a socialist.



There’s an old joke one of my uncles told me, back in the 1980s. I can’t remember which post-Stalinist Soviet leader it was about—Khrushchev, maybe, or Andropov? Let’s say it was Khrushchev—he’s the leader most on my mind in Cuba. So. The joke goes: After Khrushchev gets appointed to be the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he goes in a state-owned, of course, limo to pick up his mother. And he shows her his office, and his private car, and his other private car, and his apartment, and his vacation dacha. She looks at everything very intently, and her eyes get rounder and rounder, and she looks more and more fearful.

He gets pissed.

“What, Mama, don’t you like it?”

“I like it, Nikitka, I like it,” she assures him. “But what are you going to do when they come back?”

“When who comes back?” Khrushchev asks.

“The Communists.”




When Lazaro tells me that the nice, new buildings on the right are newly built for members of the army—and points out Raul Castro’s house, “one of his houses”—he does so with resentment that sizzles.

I guess, like me, he’s thinking about the shacks we just saw in which migrants from The Oriente live.



“Religion is the opium of the people. … Yes, and music is the opium of the people. … And now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism the opium of the people in Italy and Germany. What about sexual intercourse; was that an opium of the people? Of some of the people. Of some of the best of the people. But drink was a sovereign opium of the people, oh, an excellent opium. Although some prefer the radio, another opium of the people, … Along with these went gambling, an opium of the people if there ever was one, one of the oldest. Ambition was another, an opium of the people, along with a belief in any new form of government…

But what was the real one? What was the real, the actual, opium of the people? He knew it very well. It was gone just a little way around the corner in that well-lighted part of his mind that was there after two or more drinks in the evening; that he knew was there (it was not really there of course). What was it? He knew very well. What was it? Of course; bread was the opium of the people.

Bread is the opium of the people.

Ernest Hemingway, “The Gambler, Nun, and the Radio”


I read Hemingway’s “The Gambler, Nun, and the Radio” for the first time here, now, in Havana, in An Anthology of Famous American Stories, put together by the Literature Department of the School of Modern Languages in the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of Havana in 1953.


Hemingway is still alive. Living in Cuba, which is ruled by the American-supported dictator Battista.

The edition I’m reading is a second edition, issued in 1975.

I wish I could compare it against the original 1953 edition, because… well, this 1975 edition has the following introduction:

“This anthology of American stories has been edited in our country as teaching material for literature course that are taught at our universities.

The study of each story in those courses includes a profound critical analysis of the historical conditions, class position of the author, and the ideological aspects reflected in the work, in addition to the purely stylistical study of the same.”



I did not expect see so many parallels between Cuba now and the Poland I barely remember from the 1980s.

But they hit me, hammer me constantly.

I am my great-grandfather’s descendant, and I want to do violence to the betrayers of the revolution.

The Castros, first and foremost.


The security guard at the recreational complex of the United Widget Painters of Havana walks me and the kids off its filthy beach, past the decaying, empty playground and around the beach volleyball court with no net. There’s a line of string demarking the top of the net—blue—and the bottom—yellow.

“There are many good, fun things to do here,” he says. He shows me a cafeteria and an indoor games room.

Then gives me directions to Havana’s “Coney Island.” The beach there, he says, is public.

As I say thank you and wave goodbye, he’s moving slowly towards the complex’s main lobby, the centerpiece of which is a television that’s playing American music videos.

Playgrounds Banner


“Revolution…is no opium. Revolution is a catharsis; an ecstasy which can only be prolonged by tyranny. The opiums are for before and after.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Gambler, Nun, and the Radio


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First time here? Visit the landing page for the Postcards from Cuba project.

You: “I’m here for that unschooling talk?”

Me. “Right. Go here & then roam through Undogmatic Unschoolers while you’re at it.”

See you next week.


POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: and again with Hemingway

This one is for Sean. For saving me from daily self-destruction, among other things.



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…and, of course, read:


Jane: “We’re almost there. He said five minutes.”

Cinder: “Mom, you’ve said you have a hard time understanding their Spanish. Are you sure he didn’t say five miles?”

Jane: “I’m sure.”

I’m not, actually, I’m in utter despair—I’m as exhausted as the children, and I want to collapse in the middle of the sidewalk and cry—and why is there never one of those 24-hour convenience stores that sells rum in juice boxes when you need one—but the kids already want to turn around, and we’ve gone so far… you know we have to get there, right?

Flora: “This is a really long five minutes.”

It is the longest five minutes ever. A three-mile five minutes, actually…

Cinder: “Maybe he thought we were driving, because nobody’s stupid enough to walk there.”




Our destination is the Marina Hemingway, on the outskirts of Havana. Built in 1953 as Marina Barlovento, it was of course nationalized in 1959—and rechristened the Marina Hemingway.

It makes total sense. If I were setting up a Soviet-aligned socialist dictatorship, I would name things after an American author… especially one with a thing for Cuba.

Hemingway, who first visited Cuba in 1928, and then just couldn’t stay away, spent most of 1939 to 1960 living in and creating in Cuba, his base a house in the town of San Francisco de Paula, effectively a Havana exburb. Hemingway called his house Finca Vigia—which translates best, I think, as The Look Out. That’s where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

The Marina Hemingway is nowhere near Finca Vigia.



Flora: “Why are we going to this marina, again?”

Jane: “Because it’s there.”

Flora: “Is it because it’s named after Ernest Hemingway?”

Jane: “Maybe.”

Flora: “You know you’ve just made us hate him, forever.”

Jane: “I know. Did I tell you that four of his favourite dogs are buried in Cuba too?”

Flora: “Oh. Now that, I’d be interested in seeing…”


Hemingway’s on my mind this trip, yeah, he is. Not so much because of Havana’s Hemingway Cult. I’m not pilgrimaging to its assorted Meccas. I don’t think I’m going to make it to the Hemingway Museum at Finca Vigia, even if Flora convinces her brothers that the graves of the writer’s dogs are worth a pilgrimage—what would I get out of looking at a dead man’s moldering papers that I haven’t gotten from his published words? There’s no way the children will let me visit either of his favourite bars, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio, both in Old Havana… but I’m okay with that. Lame, overpriced tourist traps both—Hemingway’s “stool” in La Floridita is, guidebooks report, roped off “to keep the tourists at bay.” No, thanks–give me cheap rum from the mercadito and cigars from the old men on the street instead, all while I read Papa’s short stories… and his interview in The Paris Review.

Which is fucking brilliant. I mean… Listen:

“Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.”

In. Your. Face. Yes. Thank you, Papa.

Or, this:

“Interviewer: Could you say something about the process of turning a real-life character into a fictional one?

Hemingway: If I explained how that is sometimes done, it would be a handbook for libel lawyers.”

Or, this:

“Interviewer: How do you name your characters?

Hemingway: The best I can.”

I guess people interview writers about writing… and then write about it… because people like me read about it, want to read about it. Here I am, devouring it, aren’t I? Are you? But so much of what non-writers or would-be writers want to know about the process is so… I don’t know. “What was it that had you stumped?” “Getting the words right.” Yes. Because—what else is there?

But now, here’s something that gives me pause:

“Interviewer: You once wrote in the Transatlantic Review that the only reason for writing journalism was to be well paid. You said, “And when you destroy the valuable things you have by writing about them, you want to get big money for it.” Do you think of writing as a type of self-destruction?

Hemingway: I do not remember ever writing that. But it sounds silly and violent enough for me to have said it to avoid having to bite on the nail and make a sensible statement. I certainly do not think of writing as a type of self-destruction, though journalism, after a point has been reached, can be a daily self-destruction for a serious creative writer.”

Daily self-destruction…

Ender: “Are we there yet?”

Jane: “Not yet. But those people said it’s just past the bridge.”

Cinder: “You’re sure they didn’t say it’s past five bridges?”

Jane: “Just drink some water. And walk. Walk!”

Hemingway left his politics fuzzy. His much-quoted farewell comment to Cuba as he departed (fled?) the island in 1960:

“Vamos a ganar. Nosotros los cubanos vamos a ganar. I’m not a Yankee, you know.”

(“We’re going to win. We Cubans are going to win.”)

is open to many interpretations, don’t you think?

This next one… less so:

“The Cubans… double-cross each other. They sell each other out. They got what they deserve. The hell with their revolutions.”

E.H., Islands in the Stream

Anyway. Hemingway on my mind. But this is not a pilgrimage.

The Hemingway Marina, by the way, has no connection at all with Hemingway. He never wrestled marlin here or moored a yacht. He just lends it his name.



Cinder: “Is this it?”


It’s… huge.

I mean… fucking enormous.

It’s not at all what I expected.

A handful of security guards swarm us, although politely. Can they help us? I smile, shrug. We just want to explore? Is that all right? Of course, of course, enjoy—come ask us if there’s anything you need. One offers himself as a guide, but I manage to wave him off.

We explore. A restaurant in which we can’t afford to eat. A “clubhouse” that looks like something out of a Hollywood movie. And boats, boats, boats. Sailboats. Yachts.

And what is that monstrosity?

Cinder: “I think that one is bigger than our house.”

Flora: “I think that one is bigger than our house, and Babi and Dziadzia’s house, and possibly their neighbour’s house combined.”

It’s a behemoth. Beyond a behemoth. Christ…

This part of the marina is quite well up-kept and reeks of money. And I’m thrust into my recurring Cuban paradox. How was this, ever, justified? I actually understand why Fidel let Havana fall into ruin, why the public places were allowed to deteriorate. The people were fed and educated… during the Special Period, not fed… everything else was icing…

But this…


Flora: “So is visiting the Hemingway marina making you a better writer, Mom?”

Jane: “It doesn’t work like that, you know.”

Flora: “Then why did we come here again?”

Ender: “Fish! Fish!”

The marina’s carved into a coral reef, and life perseveres, fights, continues, among the boats of excess.

The further in we go, the less maintained the buildings, the grounds. There’s a derelict playground, a run-down bowling alley.

A ruin of a hotel, at the peninsula’s tip—stunning views, the building thoroughly battered by the sea and its winds, falling apart—although, the scaffolding indicates, under renovations.

The kids taste the spray of the ocean. Search for life on the rocky beach.

Find garbage.

Cinder: “Can we go now?”




I ask the security guards about buses. We’re actually at the Marina because I thought it was near Mercado 70—the best stocked supermarket in Havana—but judging by the death march I took the children on, we’re 10 k away, maybe more—and even if the children were willing to walk…

Cinder: “We’re not, we have made that clear, right?”

Jane: “Abundantly.”

…I don’t think I am.

While one security guard explains to me how to get to the bus stop and which bus to take—and that then, I’ll have to switch—I know this, that’s fine—another listens, incredulous.

Guard: “Are you crazy? I’ll get you a taxi.”

Jane: “I don’t mind taking the bus. It’s cheap.”

Guard: “I’ll get you a cheap taxi.”

Cinder: “Mom? Taxi. Please.”

I did just make them march almost 10 kilometres in 28 degree heat.




The taxi is a 1957… something or other. I’m not so good with cars. It’s a beautiful shining red on the outside… and virtually naked on the inside.

Jane: “She’s beautiful.”

Cab driver: “Do you want to buy him? I’m not quite sure what’s holding him together anymore.”

(D’ya see what happened to the pronouns there? Translation…)

When Hemingway left Cuba, he left behind a red-and-white 1955 Chrysler New Yorker—willed to his doctor. It disappeared, reports Christopher P. Baker, author of Moon’s Havana, to be found in 2011 in “near derelict” condition. Actor/director David Soul (of Starsky & Hutch fame) is restoring the beast, and Barker and Soul are plotting a movie about the restoration process.

How’s “near derelict” different from derelict, exactly, I wonder? Does “near derelict” mean savable… and “derelict” spells the end?



Cinder: “O-M-G, we’re home, we made it, and you didn’t make us take the bus from the supermarket, I love you, Mom!”

I do know how far I can push them. Also, riding the #179 bus at off-work rush hour with $90CUC worth of groceries including two five-liter water bottles… I’m cheap and crazy, but not that crazy.

This taxi’s a Fiat, and the driver wants $7CUC to drive me to Kohly.

Jane: “Last time it was five.”

Driver: “Really?”

I’m totally lying. I’ve never taken a cab from the market to Kohly. It seems to me it ought to be five.

Jane: “Mmm-hmmm.”

There’s five guys behind him, and they all stand up. If he won’t take me for five, any of them will. (Workers of the world, unite!)

Driver: “Ok, ok.”

I give him six. I’d have given him seven, because he carried my bags, walked Flora across the street, and didn’t mow down any pedestrians while driving us, except that when I was taking the groceries out of the trunk of the cab, the wooden stick holding up the hatch slipped and the hatch hit me on the head while the stick poked me in the ribs.

Driver: “This is very bad service by me.”

Jane: “It might be karma.”

Driver: “What?”

Jane: “Never mind. No harm done.”

After I unpack the groceries and hydrate the children, I take Papa, rum and a cigar to the verandah.

“Interviewer: What would you consider the best intellectual training for a writer?”

Hemingway: Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of his hanging to commence with.”

True story: I suddenly want to edit Hemingway. Strike out that “commence.” Replace it with “begin.”


In the morning… actually, you know what? I’m going to let Hemingway tell this part. He did it better, and I don’t want to edit it at all:

“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.  You read what you have written and,  as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.

You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next
and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.

You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.
When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling,  as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again.

It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”



For more on Hemingway and Cuba:

The Atlantic: Hemingway in Cuba— 2016 reprint of a 1965 article reflecting on a 1954 interview with Ernest Hemingway

The Smithsonian: Hemingway’s Cuba—August 2007, a look back at the writer’s final years in Cuba by his last personal secretary (and post-humous daughter-in-law)

The Telegraph: Ernest Hemingway House in Cuba to be Preserved with US Money–June 2015  piece that highlights the perverse US-Cuban financial-cultural relationship…


BONUS: Retro 1970s Style Slideshow

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Trio on benches at laundry park3

The best things in life and on the Internet are free. Feeding and sheltering three children, whether in Cuba or Canada, is not. If you enjoy the Postcards project, please express your delight and support by making a donation via PayPal:

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You: “But how much should I give?”

Jane: “I get $1 each time a sell a traditionally published book, so my bar’s set really low, love. Want to buy me a cup of coffee? That’s $4.75 if you’ll spring for a mocha or latte. Bottle of wine? My palate’s unsophisticated: $19.95 will more than cover it.”

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catch up

I was in Cuba before Obama. And I want to tell you all about it… in pictures… in words… through sound:

PfC: introduction

So, I introduce the project, and then…
…I shower you with pictures:

PfC: I haven’t found a post office yet… (image)
PfC: what are you looking at? (image)
PfC: Acuario Nacional de Cuba (image)
PfC: zombie Fiat (image)
PfC: sharp edges & powerlines (image)

Then (drum roll, please) release the first listening postcard:

PfC: blame it on Hemingway (post + photographs + podcast)

It’s not really about Hemingway, but you know, #hemingway is a good hashtag.

Next I show you:

PfC: the ugliest building in Havana (image)

& then I teach you some

PfC: Cuban math (post + photographs + podcast) & I also pick up / get picked up by a 25 year old Cuban boy. Seriously. Check it out, and then check out

PfC: this is also Havana (image)

& find out why I’m going to hell:

PfC: Necropolis (images + riffs)

after which you can watch how the entire country of Cuba is trying to prevent me from buying eggs:

PfC: egg hunt (post + photographs + podcast)

then try to figure out what this photo’s all about:

PfC: the view from here (image)

& then pray for me. Just pray:

PfC: we will survive (post + photographs + podcast)

Thank you. Now come with me to a beach. No, not that kind of the beach. The kind of beach that isn’t kept pristine for tourists:

PfC: but you’re not going to make us swim there, are you? (image)

& now you’ve got to meet Jack Gilbert, and understand what having children (in Cuba, anywhere) really means:

PfC: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet (post + photographs + podcast)

Now, have a look at a haunted house:

PfC: haunted house (image)

& then cringe as I explain to Flora the relationship between poverty and crime:

PfC: but is it safe? (post + photographs + podcast)

Then meditate on this photo

PfC: through bent bars (image)

& listen to me try to buy matches:

PfC: matches (post + totally unrelated photographs + podcast)

then take on a hustler:

PfC: get out of my dreams get into my car & pay me 2.5X the going rate pls (images + riff)

& then fall in love:

PfC: Lazaro’s farm (post + photographs + podcast)

and then decompress with:

PfC: a splash of orange, three versions (images)

Now get ready to get all political and cultural with:

PfC: flora, fauna + waiting (post+ images + podcast)

then look at pretty things:

PfC: behind closed eyelids (images)

& take a ride…

PfC: on the bus (short podcast + post + images)

to explore a castle: PfC: castillo means castle (slideshow + postcard images)

& consider PfC: a boat is not a boat (image)

And how you’re caught up.

Until next week.

POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: I haven’t found a post office yet…


“I regretted that I should go from the garden of he world empty-handed to my friends, and reflected: “Travelers bring sugar-candy from Egypt as a present to their friends. Although I have no candy, yet I have words that are sweeter…” Sa'adi

“I regretted that I should go from the garden of the world empty-handed to my friends, and reflected: “Travelers bring sugar-candy from Egypt as a present to their friends. Although I have no candy, yet I have words that are sweeter…” Sa’adi

All of this weekend’s photographs are sponsored by Aspect Tarot. Thank you very very much!

The first audio Postcard from Cuba is coming April 6, 2016. In the meantime:


LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.

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“Jane” / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

On writing, reading about writing (just don’t), mothering and raging

I’m curled up in bed with Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and Pierre Berton, and they’re pissing me off.

I decided to do this thing tonight, this ridiculous thing, to give my time this night to reading about writing instead of… writing. I’ve been feeling restless, unfocused—my deadline-and-paycheque-tied work is getting done, as it always gets done, but my creative-passion work is kind of flailing, directionless, and I’m not sure what it needs at this precise moment, a restart button perhaps, a Eureka moment of inspiration, something? Or maybe just a different routine, a novel approach, I don’t know…

So instead of writing, I take Ernest, Stephen and Pierre to bed. I’ve been with them all before, with their fiction, anyway, word-slut that I am. And I’ve devoured Stephen King’s On Writing when it first came out—it was the first, sometimes I think only, useful piece of writing about writing I’ve ever read.

But today, all three of them are pissing me off. Especially Pierre.

And it’s because they’re men.

Well, to be more specific: it’s because they’re NOT mothers.

Writes Pierre:

“The Make-Believe Writer doesn’t really want to write; he simply wants the Aura. The real writer writes because he must.

He writes even when it is torture for him. He writes in despair, knowing how damnably difficult it is, feeling his own self-confidence drain away, realizing the goals he strives for can never be attained and yet he writes because he cannot stop. He will forsake the company of his friends to write. He will ostracize his wife or mistress, disregard his offispring, abandon his social relationships, neglect his meals and his bed, cancel all his engagements. But he will write.”

And I want to smack him. Because… guess who’s bringing him up his meals and feeding his children and making sure all the other shit that needs to get done gets done while he’s indulging in the self-torture of writing in despair because he must?

Sean: What are you doing?

Jane: I’m writing about how you’re a terrible wife.

It’s a little unfair. He tries. And I’ve got half-a-dozen, more, “wives” in the wings—my mother, my coven, all my women, the elitist crazy bitches I love who watch my back. I am not alone, I am never unsupported.

But “ostracizing” and “disregarding” my family, my “offspring” … not an option.

And so I think… Pierre. You selfish, selfish fucker.

And I think… this is why women-writers, mother-writers should never take advice from men. Or childless women.

And I think… I never, ever want to resent my children, think of them as a reason that I didn’t do something I really, really wanted to, needed to do.

So what do I do about that?

Sean: I will try, very hard, my love, to be a better wife.

Except, he can’t. I mean—he can’t be all that I need that mythical, all-supportive wife to be. Because he needs to chase his own dreams and aspirations too: I would not love him as I do if he did not, just as he would not love me as he does if I were Mrs. Pierre Berton.

Virginia Woolf had no children and she longed for, praised the necessity of a room of her own (and, a private income!). I am surrounded, beloved, buried in children, their needs, noises, demands, lives. This is true for most of the women I know who write. They write on ironing boards, in corners, on beds, on stairs. In cars. Park benches. Coffee shops. Room of our own? Ha.

Disregard our offspring? Ha. They are always there, always first. (And the world is always there, ready to censure “mommy bloggers” for the fact that they find fulfillment in creating words and worlds on the screen and don’t find utter fulfillment in changing diapers, baking chocolate chip cookies, and cooing over their off-springs’ every burp, fart, and smile. You know what, world? Fuck you. I coo. I love. I change diapers. And I also Need. To. Write. So take your judgement and expectations and shove them up Pierre and Steve’s…)

Ender: Read books to me, Mama?

Jane: I can’t. I’m swearing at Pierre Berton. Give me 10 more minutes.

Sean: I’ll read to you.

Ender: No. I want Mama.

Jane: Then you have to wait. I’m still raging.

The almost-five year old curls up beside me with a stack of Magic School Bus and Dr. Seuss books. His dad sits on his other side, and picks up a book, starts reading. I breathe. Moan. I’m spent by swearing at Pierre. I’m thinking that Tabitha King is also a writer, completely eclipsed, of course, by the output and fame of her husband. Because he had more talent? Or because she had no wife? And why am I in this whiny mood today?

Ernie, help me.

“He always worked best when Helen was unwell. Just that much discontent and friction. Then there were times when you had to write. Not conscience. Just peristaltic action. Then you felt sometimes like you could never write but after a while you knew sooner or later you would write another good story.

It was really more fun than anything. That was really why you did it. He had never realized that before. It wasn’t conscience. It was simply that it was the greatest pleasure. It had more bite to it than anything else.” (Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories)

I always write best when I’m… a little overwhelmed. Frustrated. Angry. Creation never seems to stem from happiness. Happiness makes me languid, lazy. When I am tranquil and grounded, I’m probably a good mother, friend, lover, wife… but I’m a dull, dull, unproductive writer. When I have time, I am lazy. When there are no other demands on me, but those of my “passion-love” creative work… I don’t carve out the time to really do it.

Ender is asleep and drooling on my pillow.

Sean: Wine? Chocolate? Coffee? Laptop cord?

Jane: No. Sex. Conversation. Then maybe more sex. And you need to make supper every day next week, because I’m going to write from 5 til 9 until I go fallow again.

Sean: I can totally do all those things. Especially the sex.

Jane: And, don’t forget, more sex.

(I know how to sell anything. Please, feel free to take notes.)

Tomorrow, before 5 p.m., Ernest, Stephen and Pierre are all going back to the library. And I’m going to write, not read about writing.

Wait. I’m going to keep Ernest. Because…

“Tell me first what are the things, the actual, concrete things that harm a writer?”…

“Politics, women, drink, money, ambition. And the lack of politics, women, drink, money and ambition,” I said profoundly. (Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa)


“When you first start writing stories in the first person if the stories are made so real that people believe them the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. That is natural because while you were making them up you had to make them happen to the person who was telling them. If you do this successfully enough you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for which is to make the story so real beyond any reality that it will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”

Yes. That. Thank you, Papa H.



NBTB-On writing and reading about writing

PS I was reading Stephen King’s On Writing, Pierre Berton’s The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers Disguised as a Literary Memoir, and Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips.

PPS Looking for me? Find me here.