I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

Flora: Mom? Did you  kill someone in the bathroom?

Jane: Yes. Can you smell the blood—or just the lye?

I’m not sure I actually know what lye smells like. If it has a smell. It probably does: most things that have the power to dissolve a body—or truly clean soap scum and potential mildew off a shower wall—do.

Ender: Mom? I have to go pee.

Jane: Go pee. Just don’t close the bathroom door.

Ender: I’m afraid.

Jane: It’s fine. Just don’t close the bathroom door and don’t breathe too much.

He holds it, for longer than he should.

Cinder: What are you making?

Jane: Vegetable soup.

Cinder: That looks like whale fat.

Jane: It’s chicken stock, with fat from the bone marrows.

Cinder: Whale fat.

Jane: You know what? You don’t have to eat it. But you can stop commenting on it, now.

He saunters out of the kitchen, fake-hurt, fake-upset… with an undercurrent of shame under it all. I keep on making the soup.

It’s sort of a domestic day, I suppose. Clean the bathroom, make pork chops for lunch and soup and spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Laundry, and sweep out the entryway. In-between, all the work things… I end up not reading with Ender, twinge of guilt. But in the evening, I dance it away. It’s all right.

Guilt.

Every mother I know exists in this fairly constant grip of guilt, between the demands and obligations of the house, the needs of the family… and, not even her own needs, but the obligations that come with needing to work for a living. Whatever the job. Layer on to the job the passion and desire to do it well, to do it often, to move up whatever hierarchy exists in it… guilt, guilt, guilt. Always pulled in two, three directions.

Generally, when the house guilt sets in, I tell it to fuck off. When the work guilt sets in (as in, I should be doing MORE work), I can manage it rationally: I look at what I do do, and tell myself, firmly that it is more than enough.

But the kid guilt? Fuck. It pulsates in me, through me constantly.

You: Benign neglect. Aren’t you an advocate of benign neglect?

Jane: But when does one cross the line into active neglect?

It’s your fault, you know. Not individual you. The global you, the social you, that hasn’t yet figured out what it means to be a woman and a mother in the twenty first century, and you demand a kind of Mother Monster that does it all—and loves it, too, but absolutely loves her children and her home MORE and can demonstrate this by neglecting her work. And herself. But not too much. Because if she’s not pretty and well-taken care of physically, she loses her value too.

I’m rambling. All these thoughts seemed so much clearer as I walked the hill, taking a short break from the house, the children, and the work, and trying to reconnect with self.

Self had me thinking of all the books and movies in which the female character resents the male character’s commitment to his work, workahalic, you’re never home, you don’t have time for me and the children… because, of course, she has no commitment to hers. I remember, specifically, the passage in the Emma Jung biography, in which the author tries to make the reader sympathize with Emma (and despise Carl) because, on their first trip to Vienna, Carl spent all his time with Freud and Emma was left to tend for herself in the hotel room—or at the Freuds’ dinner table.

As I read the passage, I actually screamed at the book, “He went to Vienna to meet Freud! The pre-eminent person working in his field, his only potential mentor and real colleague! THAT WAS WHY HE WENT TO VIENNA! What did you expect him to do? Hang out with Freud in his ‘free’ time, while making Emma’s pleasure trip to Vienna his chief concern?”

But she did. She—the author—totally did. And she assumed the reader—the female reader, because after all, men don’t read biographies of women, particularly when their only claim to fame is being married to a man—would feel the same.

Poor neglected wife.

Bad selfish husband.

I am, much of the time, the selfish husband—except that I need to “balance” (there’s no such thing) my near-obsessive passion for my work with my love for my children and my concern that I don’t short-change them… because everything I see around me tells me that whenever I do anything other than hyper-focus on them, I am not doing enough.

You: Breathe.

Jane: I should have never told you about my culty yoga.

Breathe.

Dance.

On the dance floor, in the rhythm, in the noise, in the primal movement of the body, I shed the guilt. For a while. It will come back in the morning, in the kitchen. The sink, the dirty counters.

Sean: Go work in your space. Not here.

And here’s the thing: my male partner could not be more supportive. My parents could not be more proud of me. In theory, the people around me, the people who really matter—they don’t put any of this on me.

They don’t have to. I’ve internalized the prison and the prison guards, as has every woman. And when I act in defiance of them—which I do every day, else I would perish, else there would be no self, no me—guilt.

Guilt.

Sean: I think the lye has made you stoned. In a bad way.

Jane: Perhaps. I always feel housework is very bad for my mental health. I won’t clean the bathroom again.

Sean: That’s not what I meant…

The lye really is stinky.

It’s not lye, by the way. There is no lye in the stinky stuff I spray on the shower once every two years to take off all the grime and crap eco-friendly cleaners and microfiber cloths leave behind.

But there is poison.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

PS A few words about lye:

A lye is a metal hydroxide traditionally obtained by leaching ashes (containing largely potassium carbonate or “potash”), or a strong alkali which is highly soluble in water producing caustic basic solutions. “Lye” is commonly an alternative name of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or historically potassium hydroxide (KOH), though the term “lye” refers to any member of a broad range of metal hydroxides.

Tissue digestion

Sodium or potassium hydroxide can be used to digest tissues of animal carcasses. Often referred to as alkaline hydrolysis, the process involves placing the carcass or body into a sealed chamber, adding a mixture of lye and water and the application of heat to accelerate the process. After several hours the chamber will contain a liquid with coffee-like appearance,[5][6][7] and the only solids that remain are very fragile bone hulls of mostly calcium phosphate, which can be mechanically crushed to a fine powder with very little force.[8][9] Sodium hydroxide is frequently used in the process of decomposing roadkill dumped in landfills by animal disposal contractors.[6] Due to its low cost and availability, it has also been used to dispose of corpses by criminals. Italian serial killer Leonarda Cianciulli used this chemical to turn dead bodies into soap.[10] In Mexico, a man who worked for drug cartels admitted to having disposed of more than 300 bodies with it.[11]

Source: Wikipedia

 

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)

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

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #2

A conversation:

Cinder [precariously balanced on you-don’t-want-to-know-what]: “Everything’s within reach. You just have to figure out how to reach it without getting killed.”

December 26, 2010

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Ella Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must:

Should is how other people want us to live our lives. It’s all of the expectations that others layer upon us.

Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges and desires — unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of saying “but I have nothing to write about”:

Write about why you have nothing to write about. Write for 10 minutes. Then another 10. Then another 10.

There. You’ve written for half an hour. Well done, sweetums.

 

An explanation:

This is the second week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

Moving from guilt to gratitude

(first published February 24, 2014)

I am sick, so sick, achy, feverish, exhausted, so-tired-I-don’t-think-I’ll-even-make-it-to-the-bathroom-even-to’-I-really-need-to-puke-tired…

(Digression-justification: I am obscenely healthy. I hardly ever get sick. And so, when I do, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. Your husband’s man-flu, for which you mock him mercilessly? Forget it. I’m worse.)

I’m so sick, so-tired-barely-conscious, my rational-disciplined self is incapacitated, and the rest of me chooses this moment of physical vulnerability to assault me emotionally and mentally with… GUILT.

I feel guilty… oh, where do I begin? I feel guilty that I’m sick. That I’m not working-billing. Working-family-raising. That I didn’t get up with the kids. Actually I don’t even know where they are. Are they awake? Are they home? Are they alive?

I feel guilty that I’m too sick-exhausted-I-think-I’m-dying to really care…

I  need to get myself to the bathroom—but I can’t move, I can’t move—and the door opens and my beloved comes in with a puke bucket.

As I retch—I’m pretty sure this isn’t just the flu or the latest reiteration of whatever gastro-intestinal bug is floating around, it’s the plague and tomorrow I will be dead—he tells me he’s cancelled my appointments for the day and his, and the kids are fine, and is there anything else I need? Ginger tea?

I moan something incomprehensible and don’t hear his response. I’m too busy feeling guilty. Not just guilty that he’s taking care of me and the kids. No, that wouldn’t be self-flagellating enough: I’m guilty over our entire lifestyle. Guilty that our work allows my husband to be there for me and the kids on a day like this. We’re so stupid-lucky, elitist-privileged, bubble-wrapped.

So guilty.

I even start to feel guilty about this: if he had a shoot or a client commitment today that couldn’t be rescheduled—there are a dozen people he could call on to help. And they would be there for me, for us. In a heart beat.

As I start to inch my way across the bed to get away from the smell of the barf bucket, I realize that I’m  feeling fully and acutely guilty over being supported, connected. Loved.

That’s when my rational-disciplined self, however close to death it feels, snaps. Can’t take it anymore. And wallops its whiney-guilty counterpart upside the head.

“What’d you do that for? I’m sick! I’m dying! And I feel so GUILTY because…”

SLAP!

My rational-discipline self plays hard ball when roused. IT is on the brink of either slapping the rest of me again or, worse, delivering the mother of all lectures on…

…the door creaks open. “Ginger tea?” my beloved says. And… I am flooded with gratitude.

Gratitude for the tea. For the love that brings it. For the support behind it. For my entire life and everyone in it.

Why is guilt so much easier to indulge in than gratitude is to feel and practice?

I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s because guilt is selfish and self-focused… while gratitude requires humility and awareness of our interdependence, our vulnerability.

I drink my ginger tea. Puke it up almost immediately… then drift off into a feverish-restless sleep-coma-no-not-death.

But I slip into unconsciousness bubble-wrapped in gratitude.

xoxo
“Jane”

P.S. A. Deathbed experiences make me sappy. Sorry. How do they affect you? B. Clearly, I lived. Thank you for asking. But just barely… I’m pretty sure it was the plague. C. For the last few weeks, Cinder, Flora, Ender and I have been constructing a “Things That Went Right” wall. It’s a simple, fun project inspired by Martin Seligman’s gratitude journal exercise in Flourish: every day, each of us thinks of and writes down three things that went right that day. Three good things. Three exciting things. Or three ordinary things. The week of my plague, “I didn’t puke” was THE good thing each of the kids flagged. It’s all about perspective, right?

What Went Right

P.P.S. Tirzah Duncan aka The Inkcaster wrote a marvellous post about her freeing and beautiful take on beauty last week, and I’d love for you to read it: Beauty is far from skin deep.

For those of you deep in the toddler trenches, pop over to Stephanie Sprenger at Mommy Is For Real for a refresher on the concept of disequilibrium… and a tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) proposition of the massing of transitionin-disequibiriumiated (fine, it’s not a word, but you know exactly what I mean…) toddlers in a toddler “Red Tent.”

Looking for me? I’ve revamped the for-stalkers-and-bloggers-and-no-I’m-a-real-sane-fan! section: Find “Jane”

Meditation for #writers, “Mom! I need you!” and struggling to stay on that tightrope

For Deb, who wanted more naked. For Jen, who cannot ever stop writing. For Katia, who’s about to start a new job… because life was not intense enough as it was, was it, darling? For Cathy, who feels guilty about thinking—and who needs to start writing. For my Nicole, whose tightrope is harder than mine. For Nan, who understands too well—and, of course, for the introduction.

And for you. Because that tightrope I walk? Nothing unique about it, is there?

CAVEAT: This is a 3000+ word post and thus a ridiculous on-line time commitment. And it’s not the type of piece you skim for the funny bits. So. Go get yourself a glass of wine (Some University of Alberta professors have just discovered that drinking wine has the same health benefits as going to the gym—finally! Good news!). Put on some hot shoes (you don’t need to, but it will make me happy. What? You think this should be about you, not about me? Fine. Sit there in your slouchy, holey socks. I wrote this in knee-high gladiator sandals—black, leather, strappy—just to make you happy. But whatever. You’re the reader. Do what you like. Oh, sweetness. Thank you. Thank you.). Get the children watching James and The Giant Peach on Netflix. And let’s get naked.

Yeah, again. I know. It’s becoming a habit. So much of life is…

I.

Today, I am writing sitting criss-cross apple sauce on the couch, wearing a jacket that smells of camp fire smoke, two hairy blankets wrapped around my bare, chilled (and also hairy) legs. Next to me is the almost five-year-old, with soy chocolate milk stains on his pants and joy in his heart, because he just ate four mandarin oranges for breakfast.

He’s watching Blue’s Clues.

I’m meditating.

(Yes. I lied about the hot shoes I was writing the post in just to get you to start reading. I’d apologize… but here you are, all dressed up. And don’t you feel good?)

Which means, I am writing the long-hand version of this post—perverting the instructions of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, subverting the wisdom of Naomi Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and making Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts entirely my own…

You’re confused. It’s all right. I’m confused and confusing. Walk with me a little, and let’s confuse each other some more.

For the last two, near-three months, I’ve been starting my days with Sarah Selecky. Selecky is a Canadian writer, author of This Cake is for the Party, and creator of The Story is A State of Mind and The Story Intensive courses, which she promotes, inter alia, through a free daily writing prompt. I was introduced to her work the first time I met a new crush. Have you ever witnessed two writers getting to know each other? Only two questions seem to really matter: who are you reading? And… what are you writing?

But I wasn’t writing anything—not anything that mattered. I was… stalled? Stalled. Paused. It was at the tail-end of that awful-no-good post-flood Lost Year. I was so tired… and also, so tired of not moving. Of the brilliant (or was it? No, it just sucked, that’s why it wasn’t going anywhere…) idea I had for my second novel—oh-yes, what a perfect way to further subvert convention-expectation-story—remaining a chaotic, one-page mind map and a 1500 word teaser that was NOT. GOING. ANYWHERE. It was never going to go anywhere, because I was too-stupid-lazy-talentless to do anything with it, the idea was too ambitious—no, it was too trite, to cliché, so not worth writing about—too hard to write about… except I could not write about anything else because all that swirled in my head was this…

NBTB-Methadone Dec 30

“Sarah Selecky’s writing prompts,” she said, for perhaps the sixth time, the sixth time (or sixtieth?) that we had the same conversation.

“What?”

“Sarah. Selecky.”

She didn’t say, “Try it.” Or—what anyone else would have said, what I would have said had the situation been reversed, “Stop your whining and try this…”

I finally heard her that day because I had just met the yyc artist Amy Dryer, and I fell in love with her work, her process, her courage—and oh, her studio, her studio! (A piece on that love affair, “An afternoon with Amy Dryer,” coming soon on CalgaryBusinessWriter.com; also,  watch for my alter-ego’s sketch of Dryer in an upcoming issue of Avenue. All you need to know for this story is this:)

Because of my encounter with Dryer, I was, very briefly, open to thinking about myself as an artist who needs to create. It’s a state I resist, because… well, pretentious, right? I am so not an artist. Part of my amateur-professional dichotomy—and I’ve internalized that too well—is also artist-professional. And I am a professional—the definition of professional being showing up and doing the work even when you don’t want to, and doing it so well, even when you don’t care, don’t want to, that no one can tell the difference.

I don’t wait for inspiration. I PERFORM on demand.

Except, I wasn’t. Instead: flailing. Wailing. Not doing the work I really wanted to be doing. And sick of being a wanker.

So.

Amy. Artist, for sure. Me? Maybe? Sometimes? Open, opening. Inspired. And the rivers crested but stayed in their banks, and I had, while not a room of my own, once again a space-that-is-me-my-heart-mind-made-into-place and it was time to unpause. To move. To write the thing I needed to write.

But. Inertia. Stalled. Help.

Phone. Where is my phone?

Text: “What is the name of that writer you keep on telling me about? The one who has those creative writing prompts?”

“Sarah Selecky, at sarahselecky.com.”

I love her, because she doesn’t say—about time.

I do the thing. Sing up for the writing prompts. Tell myself—tomorrow morning, when I wake up, I will write.

Morning: I check my email. And there it is.

“Write about mica. Write by hand, in your notebook, for 10 minutes.”

And… panic. By hand? On paper? With—really—ink?

I used to write by hand a lot. Journals. Sketches. Vignettes. Documentation of my children’s earliest years. Outlines of my first, terrible-no-good novels. First drafts of short stories. And letters. Letters to you—did you keep them? Everything you ever wrote to me is gone. It looks like this:

Ruined papers 3

…and, really? By hand? In 2014?

I don’t even have a notebook.

What an excuse, what a perfect excuse, not to start.

No excuses.

I find one of my kids’ unfinished composition books. Find a blank page. A pencil.

Mica.

No.

I don’t want to write about mica. What’s mica, even?

I want to write my novel.

I want to write about cold Elizabeth, connecting Annie, crazy Zia and angsting Destiny—why did Zia give her daughter such a terrible name? Right, there was a reason… I had a reason for that… Oh. Right…

Write.

I put Elizabeth and Annie on a rocky Alberta beach where the water shimmers with mica. And Annie bursts in tears, and Elizabeth is appalled, and I write two awkward, stilted, AWFUL pages.

Done.

(and at this moment, during that day’s writing meditation, Ender is done too, and demands I read him Ten Apples Up On Top, and I do, and I write no more, about anything, that day. The next day, I pick up, here…)

II.

The next day, I “describe the smell of coconut sun tan lotion without using the word sweet” in three terrible (AWFUL, UNUSABLE) pages that show how much Elizabeth resents Annie’s attempts to have a relationship with her daughter. The day after, four scenes about walnuts—Elizabeth and Brian’s biggest fight, Annie’s most generous gift, a hint at Elizabeth’s secret life…

The writing gets easier. And my days get easier. Even on the ones when life’s demands prevent me from sitting down at the computer ever—or limit my writing sessions to urgent professional transactions (prose for cash, propaganda for cheques, what story do you need me to sell to your clients today, client of mine?), I feel like I have written. And to purpose, my bigger purpose.

I have written, I have been a writer—now I can be all the other things. Perform on demand…

I know I’ve established a sustainable habit when, on a day we all have to get up at 5 a.m. in order to get three kids and two adults into a car by 6 a.m. for an eight-hour car trip—the first thing I do when I wake up is take 10 minutes to sit and write.

Two months later, I have, in two and a half notebooks, and on a few assorted scraps of paper torn out of other people’s notebooks (“Seriously, Mom?” “I’m sorry! I couldn’t find my notebook.” “Again?”) a rough—chaotic, messy, non-linear, and oh-with-so-many holes—draft of a novel. It needs so much more work…

But it’s just pulsating with potential.

NBTB-Mind Map2

I am pulsating with gratitude. For Sarah and her prompts. Amy the artist and the permission she gave me, for a few hours at least, to think of myself as such. The writer-who-introduced-us, for her persistence and gentleness of suggestion.

I pervert-subvert-harness Selecky’s process. I turn the prompts into kickstarts to get me writing about something I already know I want-to-need-to write about. When she tells me to make lists, I write dialogues between Elizabeth and Annie. When the writing prompt is to “Write about a character named Wire,” I create a lover for Sasha (that’s Destiny’s new name; she aggressively rechristened herself when the prompt was “Write a scene set under a hanging pendant lamp,” and what a surprise that was). He’s awful. He appalls her mother. Amuses her stepmother. She dumps him the day Elizabeth tells her she thinks he’s “quite attractive. Reminds me of your father.”

Elizabeth is a bitch. Actually, more. Another word is much more appropriate… (My publisher raises his eyebrows. “Again? We have to talk about THAT word again?” Maybe. We’ll see…)

I love her.

When Selecky tells me to describe my mother from the point of view of my father, I, for once, do what I’m told. I follow instructions, precisely. How can I resist?

By mid-September, I don’t need the writing prompts. Most days, I sit down and just write. Sometimes, bits for the book. Occasionally, like now, skeletons or blueprints for posts or essays. More often, I just sketch with words. Sometimes, it flows. Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes, I dive into my email for the writing prompt, because I am stuck, don’t know quite how to begin that day. Other times, I ask my kids to throw random words at me to get me started.

It’s not easy.

I don’t mean the writing. Writing is sometimes easy and sometimes not, like everything in life. I mean—it’s not easy DOING it. Finding, having, maintaining the space-and-time to do it.

That’s the tightrope I walk… Do you walk it too?

III.

A month—less—into my new writing routine, Sean has a mini-breakdown about it. Me, at the kitchen table, with my notebook. Writing. Every morning, no matter what else is happening. What does that mean?

I don’t understand.

He unravels. What is he supposed to do during this time? With himself? With the kids? Is he not supposed to start work until I finish? Is he…

Interrupted in my flow, I am rage and anger and so-not-Zen.

“I don’t give a fuck what you do. Just let me write. Don’t talk to me until I finish.”

“But… the children…”

The children are 12, 9 and almost 5.

“They can tend to themselves while I write for 10, 15—hell, 30 minutes. Why are we even talking about this? It is not a big deal. Nobody is affected!”

Except… they are.

I have been typing-writing, in spurts, bits, wrested minutes of time, negotiated, blocked-off hours of time, computer in lap, on table, all of my children’s lives—all of our marriage.

My writing has been, is my work; it helps pay for our house, our food, our life.

My pre-write-by-hand-in-your-notebook-for-10-minutes morning routine involved having my computer in my lap. Facebook, email, blogging maintenance-and-business. Reading online news.

Why is this—me, notebook, kitchen table—different? Why is it a big deal?

Sean can’t tell me, in that moment. But we figure it out, as we talk about it, and when I realize—that I’m not just writing. That this time in the morning, bent over my notebook—this is my meditation. Prayer. And it really works. It is perfectly effective for me—even when it’s hard, slogging.

What that means: I am completely in the work. I am fully present there. And so—fully absent elsewhere.

I don’t notice Sean when he comes into the kitchen and asks me if I want a cup of coffee.

I don’t say hi to Flora when she wanders in to get her bowl of cereal. I don’t even see her.

Ender climbs onto my shoulders, seeking attention and affection… and I shrug him off and keep on writing.

And I do all this not in the space-that-is-me-my-heart-mind-made-into-place—the place where I’m supposed to write… but in the kitchen. The place where they think I should be theirs.

Flora captures their perception of what’s happening too aptly one day on a beach on the Haida Gwaii. The psychic who lives next door and who is our cicerone on that trip to the edge of the world and beyond comments what a wonderful, involved, loving and physically engaged mother I am. (She’s like that, my psychic-neighbour-beloved-friend-of-many-lifetimes, so good at handing out compliments, just when they’re needed—were only more of us like her.) “Very unusual for a Gemini,” she adds. “They tend to be more detached. More in their heads.”

I flush with pleasure. And my Flora wraps her arms around me from the back, and kisses my cheek.

“Mommy loves us so much and she loves hugging and being hugged and kissing and playing,”

she says, squeezing me hard. She pauses.

“Except when she’s writing. Then she wishes we’d all go away and die.”

She laughs.

I burst into tears.

Because it’s true.

Not the “and die” part. Gods, not that, never. But this “go away and leave me alone I’m writing!” part?

Yes.

IV.

My friend L.A. is working on a paper about post-modern feminist discourse on domestic violence and from within this research, throws this quote into my newsfeed:

“It is important to place ambivalence at the heart of mothers’ relationships with their children. In this analysis, mothers both love and hate their children and this ambivalence can contribute to creative, thoughtful mothering.”

I ponder. I don’t think I am ambivalent about my children. I love them ferociously, desperately. Life without them is untenable; I no longer have any conception of myself without this exhilarating-exhausting-never-ending—childhood may be a stage; motherhood is forever—role. I would do it all again, more or less the same way (I would have had Ender sooner) a hundred, a thousand times.

But there is no doubt that what they want and need is often in conflict with what I want and need.

The more so as I get older.

“Mother” is NOT my all-encompassing identity.

Neither is “wife.”

(And housekeeper-housewife-homemaker don’t even come into play…)

And I will be neither a martyr nor a negligent parent. So…

I am struggling—do you see that? Because I don’t want to pretend, through pretty words, that I have the answers to anything here—I am struggling, as never before, to fulfill-discharge my obligations to my children and my family AND my obligations to myself. And maybe you are too. You know how they tell you it gets easier? They lie. In so many ways, it gets harder.

(What? No, no, don’t take off your shoes. You’re almost at the end. And you look sooo good. Come on, love. If you’re going to do this, do it properly. It’s not like you’re dancing or standing in them, right? Just lounging on the couch. Put your perfectly shod feet up—there, you can admire them and yourself better thus—and… let’s continue…)

There was a time, not that long ago, when my meditation was baby-at-breast… or walking a stroller around the block, and writing in my head, and that was… not perfect, but enough. Because, the smell of the baby’s head, the curl of those tiny fingers around my thumb fed me as nothing else.

And also… because what the baby needed from me… was so very simple. So very physical…

When they need me now, they don’t need just the breast, the arms, my body. For Ender, that’s still key, but it’s shifting even there, and for the older two—they either don’t need me at all (but, inevitably, that is when Ender needs me most) or they need me so fully-completely, letting my mind wander-and-write-as-it-wants-to isn’t an option.

And I need me, in the moments I write, fully-completely too. The work and writing I want to do now is more difficult (rewarding), challenging (ambitious). It requires more of me. I want to give more to it.

So. There we are. Ambivalent? No, not ambivalent.

But on a tightrope, for sure.

And it so hard.

My morning writing meditation both helps me walk that tightrope… and underscores how very, very taut it is.

How easily I can fall off.

(…and that’s how it ends that day. But what a downer. No. Let’s not finish yet. Let’s walk on… Re-adjust the straps on your shoes, beloved. Suffer with me, for me, just a little longer.)

V.

It’s another day of writing on the couch, my near-five-year-old tucked into my armpit, Blue’s Clues in the background again, and an intermittent plea “You said you’d make jellyroll today!” impinging on my flow.

I am negotiating, compromising, walking the tightrope. I do not write in the kitchen, where I am theirs to access. I get that. I have that space-that-is-me-my-heart-mind-made-into-place, the place where I work and draft… That is also where I would like to write-meditate in the mornings.

But…

“Mommy? Could you please, please sit with me on the couch? I need you to be near me!”

And so, I give him my physical self.

My mind writes. It is absent from him.

It is… an imperfect practice. My elder children (I hope) understand what I am doing and why it is so important to me (if they don’t quite understand, they accept). The little one does not. He knows-sees that I’m not fully there for him, and his ability to deal is varied. Sometimes, he will settle for being just near me. And sometimes, he desperately wants more.

“Jellyroll? When are we going to make the jelly roll? Mom? Move your arm! Mom! Help me! I’m stuck in the crack!”

There’s an edge of resentment to my flow. And also—urgency. I write, sketch, chase ideas, nail down phrases, developments as quickly as possible. Because, at any point, any of those,

“Mooom! Help me!”

…might be the last.

Meditation? Ha. Maybe that’s not what most people understand by meditation. But it’s the best I can do right now.

VI.

I commit in this piece the biggest blogging sin: I’m writing about me, it’s all about me, instead of telling you the “10 Surefire Ways to Achieve World Peace, Eternal Happiness and Total Creative Fulfillment By Friday.”

Next week, I’ll make it all about you. I promise.

But right now? I’ve just wrenched a four-hour block of time from life, and I’m going to go use it.

Don’t you dare interrupt me.

I love you and I can’t imagine life without you. Except when I’m writing. Then I just need you to go away—and let me write.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Meditation for writers

PS Next week, “10 Surefire Ways to Achieve World Peace, Eternal Happiness and Total Creative Fulfillment By Friday.” Or something like that.

PS2 You can slip those shoes off now. But put them back on if you decide to re-read the post. Trust me. It’s a totally different experience in bare feet.

Moving from guilt to gratitude

I am sick, so sick, achy, feverish, exhausted, so-tired-I-don’t-think-I’ll-even-make-it-to-the-bathroom-even-to’-I-really-need-to-puke-tired…

(Digression-justification: I am obscenely healthy. I hardly ever get sick. And so, when I do, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. Your husband’s man-flu, for which you mock him mercilessly? Forget it. I’m worse.)

I’m so sick, so-tired-barely-conscious, my rational-disciplined self is incapacitated, and the rest of me chooses this moment of physical vulnerability to assault me emotionally and mentally with… GUILT.

I feel guilty… oh, where do I begin? I feel guilty that I’m sick. That I’m not working-billing. Working-family-raising. That I didn’t get up with the kids. Actually I don’t even know where they are. Are they awake? Are they home? Are they alive?

I feel guilty that I’m too sick-exhausted-I-think-I’m-dying to really care…

I  need to get myself to the bathroom—but I can’t move, I can’t move—and the door opens and my beloved comes in with a puke bucket.

As I retch—I’m pretty sure this isn’t just the flu or the latest reiteration of whatever gastro-intestinal bug is floating around, it’s the plague and tomorrow I will be dead—he tells me he’s cancelled my appointments for the day and his, and the kids are fine, and is there anything else I need? Ginger tea?

I moan something incomprehensible and don’t hear his response. I’m too busy feeling guilty. Not just guilty that he’s taking care of me and the kids. No, that wouldn’t be self-flagellating enough: I’m guilty over our entire lifestyle. Guilty that our work allows my husband to be there for me and the kids on a day like this. We’re so stupid-lucky, elitist-privileged, bubble-wrapped.

So guilty.

I even start to feel guilty about this: if he had a shoot or a client commitment today that couldn’t be rescheduled—there are a dozen people he could call on to help. And they would be there for me, for us. In a heart beat.

As I start to inch my way across the bed to get away from the smell of the barf bucket, I realize that I’m  feeling fully and acutely guilty over being supported, connected. Loved.

That’s when my rational-disciplined self, however close to death it feels, snaps. Can’t take it anymore. And wallops its whiney-guilty counterpart upside the head.

“What’d you do that for? I’m sick! I’m dying! And I feel so GUILTY because…”

SLAP!

My rational-discipline self plays hard ball when roused. IT is on the brink of either slapping the rest of me again or, worse, delivering the mother of all lectures on…

…the door creaks open. “Ginger tea?” my beloved says. And… I am flooded with gratitude.

Gratitude for the tea. For the love that brings it. For the support behind it. For my entire life and everyone in it.

Why is guilt so much easier to indulge in than gratitude is to feel and practice?

I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s because guilt is selfish and self-focused… while gratitude requires humility and awareness of our interdependence, our vulnerability.

I drink my ginger tea. Puke it up almost immediately… then drift off into a feverish-restless sleep-coma-no-not-death.

But I slip into unconsciousness bubble-wrapped in gratitude.

xoxo
“Jane”

P.S. A. Deathbed experiences make me sappy. Sorry. How do they affect you? B. Clearly, I lived. Thank you for asking. But just barely… I’m pretty sure it was the plague. C. For the last few weeks, Cinder, Flora, Ender and I have been constructing a “Things That Went Right” wall. It’s a simple, fun project inspired by Martin Seligman’s gratitude journal exercise in Flourish: every day, each of us thinks of and writes down three things that went right that day. Three good things. Three exciting things. Or three ordinary things. The week of my plague, “I didn’t puke” was THE good thing each of the kids flagged. It’s all about perspective, right?

What Went Right

P.P.S. Tirzah Duncan aka The Inkcaster wrote a marvellous post about her freeing and beautiful take on beauty last week, and I’d love for you to read it: Beauty is far from skin deep.

For those of you deep in the toddler trenches, pop over to Stephanie Sprenger at Mommy Is For Real for a refresher on the concept of disequilibrium… and a tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) proposition of the massing of transitionin-disequibiriumiated (fine, it’s not a word, but you know exactly what I mean…) toddlers in a toddler “Red Tent.”

Looking for me? I’ve revamped the for-stalkers-and-bloggers-and-no-I’m-a-real-sane-fan! section: Find “Jane”

That’s the mom I am…

IMG_0938

Sometimes, I’m the coolest mom ever. In the park, crazy eight kids with me. Sure, climb the trees. Get naked and swim in the fountain. Um, yeah, you can touch a dead fish… but maybe not with your tongue. The coolest mom ever. Especially when:

Flora: Mooooom! Moxie just face-planted off the tree and she thinks she broke her nose! Don’t worry, Moxie–if you broke your nose, my Mom will know exactly what to do. She’s had her nose broken three times.

Moxie: Three times?

And behind her, the chorus from four boys: “Three times? Really?”

Really. I bask in my coolness and awesomeness.

But lots of time–I’m the lamest, meanest mom ever. You know the one. No, you CANNOT throw rocks at the wasps’ nest are-you-in-fucking-sane? No freezies in the house. No, I’m not going to get you ice cream. Get off the computer and run outside before you have another fit. No, like RIGHT NOW. NOW! Stop! Don’t do that! Clean that up. For Keer-ist’s sake, put that away. What did you do? GAAAAAH! No. No. No. NOOOOOOO!

The moments that make me feel the worst, of course, aren’t the moments that they resent the most in the moment. I mean–they cannot throw rocks at the wasps’ nest. I’m not at all conflicted about telling them that. It’s that other stuff…

“Can you play cars with me now?”

“No, I have to [insert chore of the moment here].”

… all those variants of daily “I can’t,” or worse, “I don’t want to.” I mean… I could play Small World right now. I could read Danny Dragonbreath aloud for the seventh time. I could stop what I’m doing and go do the thing you’re asking me to do… I could. I could.

I don’t want to.

Some days, some weeks, some months–there are more of those moments than in others, aren’t there? Of course. That’s just the way it is. But today, at this moment, I let go of the guilt that seems to be such a constant companion in motherhood. And this is why:

Ender: Daddy! Oh, Daddy! You have a horrible owie. What happened? Did a bee bite you?

Sean: Um… where? Oh. Oh. No, not a bee.

Ender: Well, I did not bite you there.

Sean: I know you didn’t.

Ender: Did Cinder bite you? Or Flora?

Sean: No.

Ender: Well, if Cinder did not bite you, and Flora did not bite you, and I did not bite you, who bit you?

Sean: Maybe Mommy bit me.

Ender: But Mommy is wonderful. She would never, ever, ever hurt any of us.

Mommy is wonderful.

There’s my judgement, my metric. And tomorrow, maybe I’ll be lame and mean. But maybe cool and awesome. Maybe I’ll yell, be impatient. Or maybe I’ll sit on the floor and play cars for two hours with the Ender, and braid Flora’s hair into 12 little braids, and let Cinder whoop my ass at Small World. Or, maybe I’ll be claimed by the kitchen, a deadline, a disaster. Whatever. Life happens.

Ender thinks I’m wonderful. And would never ever hurt him.

Score.