Read my mind, Part I


Client: What I want you to do is, well—I want you to read my mind and to deliver a product that’s exactly what I need and want it to be—without me having to tell you what it is that I want and need. Got it? I don’t actually want to take the time to give you instructions, to explain to you what I want.

Jane: Yeah… that’s not gonna work.


Sean: Love, but the problem is, you don’t want to tell me what you need and want. You want me to read your mind.

Jane: What’s so fucking hard about that?

Why I love him: he heard that first conversation. And he doesn’t call me a hypocrite.


You: I would really love to watch you write.

Jane: Yeah… watching a writer write is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Flora: Not! True! She makes the most amusing, the most horrible faces.

Cinder: And sometimes, if you time it just right—if, at just the right moment, you say, “Mom! Where’s the charger for the iPad?” or “Mooooom! I’m hungry!”—she channels Cthulhu. And. It’s. Awesome.

The goddamn bums. Did you catch that? They. Do. It. On. Purpose.

Oh, for a room of her own… with a lock on the door.

(Soundproof, too…)


I can read Ender’s mind. Totally.

Jane: Don’t even think about it.

Ender: But…

Jane: No!

Ender: Come on!

Jane: No! Way!

Ender: Humph. Fine.

He stalks off. I dial.

Jane: Hi, Ender’s on his way to your house. Whatever he asks—I already said no.

Her: K. Good to know.

It takes a village, don’t you know.


Client: This isn’t at all what I had in mind.

Jane: Good. Now I have a little more information. I still don’t know what you want. But I have a better idea of what you don’t want. Let’s talk about what, specifically, you don’t like about this.

Client: I don’t know. It just doesn’t speak to me. It doesn’t pop. Make it… snappier. More… you know… more… something or other, you know? Like this… but different.

Jane: You’re fired.


Interlude: A neighbourhood cat wanders into my basement office while I write. Sniffs around. Possibly pees in the laundry room.



You can’t watch me write, lover. But next week, I’ll tell you how I cook. It’s like writing… but different.

nbtb-read my mind 1



I’m raising a blackmailer. Oops

This one is for “Narf,” from The Road to Serenity, who asked for something funny. And for  B., who thinks he needs to review all my future NDAs, because… well, read on…


First, this: the children find out how utterly broke I am:

Flora: Mom? How much money do you have in your bank account?

I scrunch up my forehead, pull up the date, calculate the total number of bills deducted from my not-very-impressive balance as of today, and respond…

Jane: About $50.

Flora: OMFG! I have more than that in my Three Jars!

(Three Jars, by the way, is a very brilliant way of managing your children’s money without actually giving them real money. What I mean is—Aunt August sends a check for $16.66* for their birthday, and it’s in your name… you deposit it, of course, in your bank account, and then do you transfer it to their bank account? Of course not. At least I never do. I spend it, on, you know—food. Visa bills. Until Three Jars. Now, I “deposit” that amount into their account. It’s virtual money: I don’t put any real money in there. It’s just a record. Then, when we’re at a store, and Flora wants another Rainbow Loom, and wants to pay for it with her money—I pay for it with my visa… and deduct the money from her Three Jars account. Brilliant. Check it out.)**

Flora is very, very clever—I may have mentioned this before, how clever my girl is?—and my apparent indigence is causing her some concern. She’s following the matter to the obvious conclusion.

Flora: Mom? So I have more than $300 in my Three Jars. If I ask you for that money, where is it going to come from?

Here’s the part where I teach my children a terrible life lesson.

Jane: I would write you a cheque on my Line of Credit.

… and here’s the part where they learn the paradox of a freelance writer’s life:

Flora: Mom? Why do you have so little money when you’ve just worked so much?

Jane: Because I haven’t been paid yet.

… and here comes the part where I realize my children learn all sorts of financial lessons I don’t realize I teach them…

Cinder: Because Mom’s a freelance, Flora, and that means clients don’t pay her for weeks and weeks and sometimes months after she does the work.

Flora is outraged.

Flora: Well, that really sucks!

Me, you know, I haven’t had a biweekly, predictable paycheque since Y2K, so I rather take it in stride. Most of them pay. Eventually. In the meantime, there’s my treasured line of credit…

And here comes the part where… well, just listen:

Cinder: Hey, Mom? That client you wouldn’t tell us anything about, the one that you did that top secret project for—you know, the one that you said if you told us about, they’d send ninja assassins to Calgary to kill us and also everyone we talked to about it?

(Sometimes, I get REALLY interesting jobs. They come with these NDAs…)

Jane: Um, yeah?

Cinder: Have they paid you yet?

Jane: Um, no.

Cinder: So… why don’t you call them and say, “Pay me now, or I’m going to put your top secret project on Facebook?”

I crane around in the front seat of the car—these conversations almost often take place in the car—and stare at my son-the-future-blackmailer. Who 1) totally understands the power of social media and 2) knows that privacy in our current world is only a delusion…

… and I wonder exactly where I went wrong on the path of shaping his moral make-up…

… and then Flora—have I mentioned how very, very clever she is?—sets him straight:

Flora: But Cinder. Maybe they’d pay her this time—but then, she’d never, ever get another top-secret-don’t-tell-anyone-about-this-or-we-will-send-ninja-assasins-to-kill-you-and-everyone-you-might-have-talked-to job.

Cinder: But she’d get paid.

Flora: But she’d never get hired to do anything top secret again.

Silence falls. I do some mental arithmetic on how much room there is left on my line of credit, and decide plenty enough that I don’t need to panic. Yet. Flora, I suspect, is wondering if she should call in all her Three Jars savings now, before the line of credit is maxed. Cinder, I’m a little worried, might be thinking whether he should take the financial health of the family into his own blackmailing hands—and I make a mental note to change all my laptop and file passwords again. Just in case. Not that I doubt his integrity… just his, you know… judgement.  I turn again to look at him. His look is pensive rather than cunning—more like he’s feeling pity for my lack of ruthlessness rather than planning the demise of my professional reputation by threatening my client in my name.

I relax. Peek over at Ender, who was listening to but not following the conversation, but now has his brow furrowed in concentration. I love to watch him think: I see him chasing a thought… wrestling it… figuring out how to articulate it. What did he take away from all that? What did he glean, process?

And, here it comes.

Ender: Mom?

Jane: Yes, my darling?

Ender: Penis!

The four-year-old has spoken.



Raising a blackmailer

*You remember Aunt Augusta? She’s not real—she’s a metaphor for every relative-aquaintance-friend-of-the-family-well-meaning-stranger-at-the-bus-stop-nosy-neighbour who has an opinion about how I live my life/raise my children and misses no opportunity to tell me I’m doing it wrong. I hope you have an Aunt Augusta or two in your life: there is no better barometer by which to measure your parenting. Aunt Augusta thinks you suck? Awesome. You’re doing something right.

**Not a sponsored post. I don’t do that. I’m a real user of the service and a real fan.

Photo: My blackmailer-in-training practicing breaking secret codes…

On getting kids to do their own laundry, slime molds and deadlines


So it goes like this:

Cinder: Mooooom! I’m out of pajamas! And pants! And socks! And…

Jane: Cindeeeer! The washing machine is, I believe, empty and fully functional. Do a load, or go scavenge in your dirty clothes pile! I’m writing!

Cinder: I’ve already worn everything twice… Will you show me how you do the laundry again?

Jane: As soon as I… just ask Flora to show you.

Cinder: Flora knows how to do laundry?

Jane: She ran out of underwear on Sunday.

Interlude for the aspiring writers in the crowd: Once or twice a week, I get an email from a “I want to be a freelance writer!” asking me if I have any advice to impart. It boils down to this: Pitch. Query. Write. And when you get assignments, MEET YOUR DEADLINES (and if you break them, you’d better have a really good excuse, like… FLOOD! And even then, your editors will say, “So… if you get power back on Thursday, does that mean you might be able to file on Friday?”). MEET YOUR DEADLINES. And did I mention… MEET YOUR DEADLINES.

Awesome Dryerase Board

And then it goes like this:

Flora: Mooooom! What’s wrong with our sink?

Jane: Keee-rist, did Ender clog the drain with Lego again?

Flora: No, come look.

Jane: Sweetie, I really need to finish…

Cinder: Gah, Mom, you need to come see this.

Jane: This better be… Kee-rist. What the hell is that?

Flora: I think it’s a slime mold.

Jane: Is that moving?

Cinder: Sometimes, slime molds move.

Jane: That is not a slime mold. I doused the entire bathroom in cleaners and alcohol after we had the plague. I’ve only been neglecting the house for two weeks. Not enough time for a slime mold to..

Flora: Oh-my-god, it totally moved.

How you know we’re all a little whack:

Cinder: Should we take a picture?

Flora: Can I keep it for my museum?

Jane: I think if we leave it until Daddy gets home, he’ll deal with it.*

Interlude for the aspiring writers in the crowd: MEET YOUR DEADLINES. Deal with the slime mold later–or delegate.



PS I’m not reading anything not directly related to my billable work right now, my apologies to the blogosphere. Um, well, except for this. Have you read Jessica Olien’s Salon piece, Inside the Box: people don’t actually like creativity. Brilliant. Painfully true.

*He did. Cause he’s the best Daddy-husband-to-writer ever. And, if you’re wondering: it was just a blob of shampoo-toothpaste mixture, carefully sculpted by the Ender. Of course. Obvious, you’d think. But we sort of liked going with the whole moving slime mold thing…

How they know they’re the children of a writer

Math Medley


How you know she’s my daughter:

Math question: Jamie had 2 video games. He got 2 more video games for his birthday. How many video games does he have now?

Flora’s answer: Well, Jamie is a nerd so he has four video games. If he lived in our house, Mom would make him give away the first two video games when he got two new ones, so he would still only have two. And he’d only get one new video game for his birthday, because how could he play two video games at the same time.


Math question: Yesterday, Claire found six pennies laying on the ground. Today, she found one penny. How many pennies did she find altogether?

Flora’s answer: Why were the pennies laying on the ground? Who put them there? Was today’s penny in exactly the same spot? And, the real question: how many pennies will there be on the ground tomorrow?

Um. So. I need to ask…

Jane: Flora? Why did you just write “She found seven pennies”?

Flora: It said to answer in full sentences. See?

Of course.


How you know he’s my son:

Jane: My sweet, I know that you know the answer as soon as you look at these two ridiculously large numbers. But for these questions, you need to break it down into the steps you’d use to find the answer. Can’t you just pretend you don’t know the answer right away and work it out like this…

Cinder: I don’t want to jump through these idiotic hoops! I want to get this crap done as quickly as possible so I can go do something interesting!

I know, beloved, I know. I wish I could tell you that one day life runs out of idiotic hoops. Still. I think we do get better at avoiding the most onerous of them, with practice. So. Yeah. Go on to something more interesting.


How they know they’re the children of a writer:

Jane: OK, guys, here’s the sich. As you know, I lost a week of work and consciousness because of the Plague, and I have three massive deadlines this week. So here’s what’s going to happen. Today, I’m doing research and scheduling interviews. Tomorrow, I’ll be stressed, frustrated and panicking because no one is returning my emails and probably unproductive as a result, so we might as well take a field trip. Let’s go to Banff—Cinder, you’re in charge of finding the swim stuff. It might be molding in the basement from the last time we went swimming. Wednesday, I absolutely need to write because one of the stories is due Thursday morning, so don’t talk to me: Daddy is the only parent alive as far as you’re concerned. Thursday is going to be hell, because Daddy has a shoot, and that’s when I’ll be doing the interviews for the story due Friday… You can basically watch movies all day and night until you pass out. Um, Friday… Friday, Daddy’s home and I need to write.. don’t talk to me. But Saturday, Saturday I’ll probably make supper.

Cinder: You’re not going to feed us until Saturday?

Jane: I’m also not doing any laundry this week. So either do your own or ration your underwear.

Cinder: I don’t think this happens in other people’s houses.

Flora: No, I’ve conducted surveys. She’s extra weird. And look. Now she’s texting and dancing!*

Jane: Yes! New plan! The Friday story is now due Monday. The good news is, I will now make you supper on Thursday. The bad news is, I’m going to be stressed and bitchy all weekend.

Flora: It’s ok, Mom. We’re used to it.


*I was actually emailing and dancing. But, same diff.

I’m on deadline. So I’m not really here. I was never here. You never saw me. Shhhhh.



Teaching kids about money, sort of

An example of a cheque.

You know the kids have been raised in a self-employed freelance household when you hear this:

Flora: Mooooom! The mail’s here, and it looks like it could be a cheque!

And you know they really pay attention to what’s inside those little envelopes when you hear this:

Cinder: Fuck, no, it’s the visa bill. Mom? Are you ready to look at this or should I hide it for a while?

And you know they really, really understand much too much about your finances when you hear this:

Cinder: So, is it a big enough cheque to zero the line of credit, or just big enough to cover rent? Or, like, cover rent and go out for sushi and something?

But when you hear this from the three-year-old, it’s probably time to tone down on the finance discussions before the children:

Ender: Mom! Mail! Cheque! Maybe from those fucking bastards who haven’t paid you for seven months!

To all of my friends, online and real-life, who lust after the life of a freelance writer… it has its high points, I won’t lie. I wouldn’t trade it for a 9-5 office job for the life of me. But sometimes, the idea of a regular, predictable bi-weekly paycheque is beyond intoxicating. And dental benefits? Oh, god. Dental benefits. I’m swooning…