Like Anaïs Nin, I lie when I write the truth


The Monday morning starts with desire—the desire to write, and the desire to write a journal-diary type post that my fingers tease and type on a computer screen instead of scribbling long-hand with a fountain pen that’s a gift from someone I love in a notebook that’s also a gift from him.

I want to write a public diary entry, and I know why: last week, in-between ALL THE THINGS (and there were so many things), I read Alexandra Johnson’s The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life.

The book examines the diaries of Marjorie Flemming (Scottish child prodigy; she died at age nine, and you’ve probably never heard of her), Sonya Tolstoy (Leo’s wife… he made her keep a diary with the understanding that he would read it—as she would read his—btw, this was a sure-fire way of ensuring an unhappy marriage, DO NOT EMULATE), Alice James (sister of Henry and William), Katherine Mansfied and Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, and May Sarton.

It nominally asks the question why do writers keep diaries, and what is it that they achieve in those pages.

It doesn’t… actually answer this question.

I’m not sure if I should recommend it to you or not… there are fascinating passages and insights, but ultimately, for me, the book does not hang together as a whole—I had this sense of “Oh, and now I’m going to write about Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield diaries… and… oh, well, I have to write about Anaïs Nin, of course…” and none of the chapters flew into one another for me.

And the Anaïs Nin chapter pissed me off.

Anaïs Nin—you know this by now do you not?—Anaïs Nin is one of my four… what shall I call them? Models, mentors, saints, inspirations, heroes. (The other three are Frida Kahlo, Colette, and Jane Austen, Jane Austen with an asterix, in a way, because whenever I read Jane, I always end up thinking… how much better a writer she would be if she had been… a mother. It’s funny, I never get that feeling with the childless Frida—who so desperately wanted a little Diego she was willing to die and destroy her body more and more for the chance—or the wilfully childless Anaïs  who presented to the world at least one attempted abortion as a stillbirth. Oh-my. I wasn’t going to write about this at all, but I am thinking about it, and one day soon, I must write about it: why do I get this sense with Jane and not with them? And now I realize that of my four idols—I guess that’s the word, really? Saints is too Catholic. I don’t know that idols really fits either, but I cannot think of the right one—of my four idols, three are childless, and of these three, I look at Jane and think, “You lack this.” Unfair. Why? I will be spending the next few days, weeks, months, thinking about this.)

Back to Anaïs :

The Hidden Writer is written in the late 1990s, shortly after the “untruth” of Anaïs Nin’s diaries came to light. (If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy: she revised them extensively, edited and censored them heavily, omitted lots… crafted more… etc etc.) And Johnson takes the very conventional, middle-class—bourgeouisie?—approach to vilifying Anaïs for betraying her reading public by, effectively, manufacturing her diary…

…therefore missing the whole point of Anaïs Nin, and who she was—and what she achieved and created…

…the whole point of for-publication journals, diaries, and memories, which are manufactured for an audience… and which are the truth, as the writer is willing to reveal/present it to that audience at that point in time…

…the whole point of the elusive relationship between truth – confession – reality – lies – creation of self-protection of self, and this despite the fact that she quotes perhaps the most illuminating thing Anaïs Nin has ever said:

“I would not be concerned with the secrets, the  lies, the mysteries, the facts. I would be concerned with what makes them necessary.”

(Anaïs says this, by the way, to her lover Henry Miller, about his wife June. Which makes me want to watch Henry and June again.)

Anyway. Johnson loses me when she doesn’t get Anaïs. Creatively, historically, viscerally—she just doesn’t get her. Because I not only get  Anaïs, I feel her in my creative DNA—both in my moments of joy and glory, and the moments of despair and madness.

Ender just came downstairs into my writing space, and announced he has to poop. Which means I need to go upstairs and clean his butt—and have a conversation with him, again, about how, um, really, maybe it’s time he starts doing this himself? And he will say, “But poop is so gross and I don’t want to accidentally get it on my hands,” and I will sigh and say, “Me neither, dude!” And I will suggest that his birthday might be the time for this change, no?

And I have typed for too long for he is calling to me.

But here. You have a public diary entry.

There is a private one too. It includes a bad poem—that I might copy out and play with and try to turn into a less bad one—and a private, unshareable few pages that I will burn or soak with water… truly keep private.

But you can share this part of me.

I consent.





I live my day in 15 minute chunks. I do all the work, all the things… in 15 minute chunks. Including some crying.

At the end of it, I am a focused, responsible faking-it-very-well adult, talking into a microphone about BIG PICTURE STRATEGY stuff and THINKING IN QUARTERS, YEARS, AND DECADES.

It’s not lies. It’s all truth.

But part of the truth is that the big picture decade-long strategy… gets implemented in 15 minute chunks.


I think I can do it all, plus two more things, but instead I manage to do just the minimum.

And start reading Karen Karbo’s Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life to ground myself.

I remember, while reading it, that when Flora and I watched Julie and Julia—she was four or five, and I was crippled and on bedrest with Ender permanently tied to my nipple—I promised her that when Ender was weaned, we’d debone a duck and make that “amazing recipe” that Julie Powell made at the end of the movie (and her book and blog).

I send Flora a text to a Pâté de Canard en Croûte recipe, and tell her to assemble the shopping list.


I wake up at 4:30.

Am still awake and in bed at 5:30.

I get out of bed at 5:33. Am working by 5:43.

Ender comes down at 8 a.m. I don’t feel ahead… and, by 8:30, I need a nap.

Still. No one can undo the work I have done in those ridiculously early 2.5 hours.


the week can’t be over. I have too much to do.

Sean: You have the weekend. And you said, you’re a week ahead now.

Jane: I’m panicked. I have too much to do.

The children feed me chocolate. I do all things. Or at least, most of them. A few more still to go.

I dream about going for sheesha in the evening, when they are all over.

I have too much to do.

I think I’ll do most of it. In 15 minute chunks. Right?

And journal about it. Like Anaïs. Creating a cohesive narrative out of something that, while I’m living it, feels like utter chaos.

That’s me, sort of, in a painting by outrageously talented Iranian-Canadian artist Golriz Rezvani.

The painting is really about Anaïs Nin–or at least, the battle she lived, fought, documented.


In the background is a letter I wrote to Golriz while on a plane to Portland, the day after I read my poetry in public for the first time in… twenty? more? years.

I’m reading The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin on the plane, and the letter is mostly Anaïs Nin quotes:

The undocumented year

The book is called Adventures in Love, Life, and Laughter, and it’s the book Ender wants to read at bedtime. He just ‘stole’ it from Flora’s room, where she’s been going to bed with it for weeks. I’m pleased and terrified—the book is a photo-blog combo of Nothing By The Book’s 2011 posts and Sean’s photographs of the children.

“How old was I?” Ender asks as he looks for himself in every picture. “How old was Flora? How old was Cinder?”

“Two,” I say. “You were two. Here, you must be about two a half. Here… mmm, I think it’s just before your third birthday.”

“What’s this story? Read me this story,” he asks, and I do, and sometimes he loves them, and sometimes he cringes. “I never did that!”

You did, my darling, you did, I think.

But I don’t say.


I have a book like that for every year, from 2005, through to 2013. I produced them as Christmas gifts for the grandparents and family—and myself—and now I know they are mostly for my children. I didn’t manage to create 2014—it sits on my computer still as an unproofed file—and Flora was so disappointed, I know I must make that book for her, and soon.

Sean put 2015 together for me as a Christmas present—it exists as an electronic file only. We must print it.

And now, 2016 is coming to an end, and I am looking back at it, and realizing my children are about to experience their first undocumented year.

Oh, not exactly, of course. The first three months of the year, the time we spent in Cuba, are documented up-the-wazoo—I’m not finished with the postcards yet—just with Havana. Our time in the fishing village/Varadero bedroom community of Boca de Camarioca is still to be released, over January-February-March 2017—bringing the story full circle and to a close. When I am done, I will put all of that together for the kids into a beautiful book.

But in the nine months of 2016 I’ve spent in Canada, my ‘real time’ posts have been rare and sporadic… and as I look back at the year, I have an eerie sense of an undocumented year. Even my Instagram—my back-up visual documentation (I am a writer: documenting in words is always my first choice) is sparse.


There are very good reasons for this lack of documentation. Producing the Postcards took much more time than just writing a ‘here’s the weird shit my kids said this week’ post takes. And the project felt so important to me, and so urgent: it was a high creative priority. I was also deeply immersed in other writing projects that again were—felt—urgent and important, and I focused my energy on them.

(Priorities, baby!)

And also… more and more often, the children are now my blog co-producers and… censors.

“Don’t write about that,” gets said in my house more and more often.

Actually, it’s more like:

“Don’t you fucking dare write about that!”

Jane: But it’s important!

“That’s why! It’s private!”


Important. Private.

If you’ve been following my writing on life-and-parenthood since I became a mother in 2002, you will have noticed that this awareness—my recognition that increasingly, my documentation was invading my children’s privacy, and my struggle with that—has crept up on me slowly. I think it resulted in an unconscious shift, initially, into a more internal perspective. Flora doesn’t want you to know what she said or did, OK—but I have all these FEELINGS about it… and these feelings are my own, and I want to explore them and document them… which makes for a much more introspective, and much less amusing, way of writing than a piece on “House Rule #713, or, why we don’t have a lot of dinner parties.”

Important. Private.

The Internet and social media have created a fascinating world in which we don’t think things are important unless they are shared… and re-shared… and re-shared. Yet, after all… the most important things are… private.

And these too should be documented—for the people they matter to. And not thrown, naked, before the eyes of the world.

I started journaling again, privately, in 2014. I now have dozens (literally: 26 that I see from where I’m sitting right now, and at least two or three more tucked away elsewhere) of notebooks filled with barely legible long-hand that document all the things that are important—and private—to me.

Inside those private journals, there is a sub-body of work that is first drafts of posts, essays, articles, poems, novels.

Art. Which will be shared. After it is refined, revised.

Perhaps, censored, a little. Because… privacy is important. And the only things that are private are the things that are unshared.


My undocumented year—it is not so undocumented, really. But the most important parts of it… they’re private.

And this is a good thing.

I think it’s important to consider that just because something can be shared—said—posted—doesn’t mean it should be. Sometimes, it is enough for a photograph just to be taken. A thought to be had. Written and slipped into a drawer.

Sharing is not an imperative.

It’s a choice—and it should be a conscious choice.



So. What does this mean for Nothing By The Book in 2017?

I don’t know.

I think my biggest and most important task is to figure out how to document my children’s childhood for them without betraying them—and I can’t tell MY story without telling their story, right? We are so entwined. So that’s a challenge I will need to navigate as I write life.

I am creating and trying to figure out a whole new career at the moment, and that’s fascinating and amazing—but also something that I want to occur completely off the pages of Nothing By The Book. Which creates another censor and strain. How can one write honestly and meaningfully… when there are so many fucking censors involved?

I am also struggling with the nightmare of TOO MUCH CONTENT. As we enter 2017—and Facebook turns 13, Twitter 11, and Instagram 7 (the parallels between the ages of these social media and my children’s ages are hilarious)—we enter a world in which everyone is writing and talking… and too few people are reading and listening. You know this is true. Those of us who ‘produce’ (a telling word) ‘content’ (ditto) scan posts and articles not to understand what is going on but to get material for the shit we’re going to write and say.

This is a dysfunctional situation.

We’re all talking and writing. And there is so much STUFF being thrown at us to read-listen to-watch. TOO MUCH CONTENT. We know this, we feel this, we are overwhelmed… and at the same time, we suffer from that fear-of-missing-out thing… and we’re so rushed and crushed, we talk in acronyms. OMFG. FOMO. YOLO. TTYL.


Every time I release a post… I feel I’m part of the problem.

What would happen… what would happen if I just shut up for a while… and listened?


I don’t know.

I don’t even know if I’m capable of shutting up. 😉 Silence is very difficult.



This is very, very important (and not private, so I will tell you):

Before you tell stories, you need to listen.

You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories about. You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories for. You need to listen to your inner story teller too. What’s up with her and why does she want to tell this story?

And I think you need to have the courage to ask… is this story worth telling? Worth sharing?

I don’t think the answer is always ‘yes.’

You: It’s my story and I’ll share it if I want to.

Jane: That is, of course, your prerogative, always.

The freedom we are now offered, the extent to which we are able to share ourselves, our lives, our work—our innermost secrets!—is immense.

And powerful.


I don’t know.


I am talking in circles now, and I am not taking you towards closure.

I should just shut up and listen.

Ender: Read me the book?

Jane: Ok, baby. Which one?

Ender: The one about me and my brother and sister.

Oh boy.

Mixed messages. Mixed messages.

2017, what am I going to do?

Merry All-The-Holidays, and may 2017 bring you many beautiful things… and the occasional gift of silence.



Postcards From Cuba

2016 Posts that weren’t Postcards From Cuba

indulgent interlude (May 15, 2016)

journeys, birthdays, gratitude (May 24, 2016)

interlude: a perfectly ordinary monday (June 20, 2016)

Party in purgatory (July 14, 2016)

The price of flow (July 27 2016)

Frida Kahlo was a selfie master (August 10, 2016)

Hate and love, Frida and Hamlet, also, inspiration (August 17, 2016)

Expiration date (August 23, 2016)

Too. Much. Noise. (August 31, 2016)

A passion for learning and for life: unschooling and worldschooling in practice (September 6, 2016)

Proofing, planning, priorities, postcards (November 2, 2016)

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Honouring the private lives of children

The insight comes at this moment: My children, 5.95 and 3.4 at the time, are on the floor in my living room/office, playing a rather odd game that involves some plastic dinosaur figures, a couple of Lego Exoforce structures, and a plot line that combines some kind of intergalatic battle with a game of hide and seek and a trip to Banff. They’ve just come down from upstairs, where they were hanging out in Sean’s “workshop,” which has numerous breakable things in it. I was not in there, hovering over them, to ensure they didn’t break the printer, put magnets on the hard drives, or brought the pile of intricately arranged video tapes on top
of the bureau crashing down on their heads.

I didn’t have to hover―not because they are “better” or more “obedient” children than the child who would do all that, but because they’re in a different developmental cycle. I have Sharpie marker traces on our (trashed) leather couch, basement floor and several stuffed toys from a different phase, after the onset of which the Sharpies were put away in a high, unreachable, unseeable place. There was a DVD destroying incident, after which Sean’s workshop was off limits for a long while.

The Sharpies are still away. The door to the workshop is once again perpetually open.

 That’s by the way (another by the way: the game on the floor below me, by the way, now includes a ghost haunting, and I’m trying to figure out how this fits into the previous going to Banff via intergalatic battle bit, but that’s probably just as irrelevant). We all figure out how to deal with the “in the moment” issues thrown at us by our children with ways that address the “in the moment” needs and fit into our big picture philosophy of life, more or less adequately.

Today, I want to put another issue on the table, the issue of 
privacy and the inner life of the child.

Now, my partner and I spend a lot of time with our children. Oodles. We both work from home. We homeschool. We could be together 24/7. And one of the breakthroughs for me on the parenting journey―it happened, as always, later than it should have–was that as they’ve gotten older, my children need more space, more privacy, more alone time. Not to the exclusion of time with each other and time with their parents and time with other people in their lives–but alone time, uninterrupted time to just be by themselves, to do their own thing without being watched (however unobtrusively), without being questioned about it, without having to account for that time.

Sometimes, when Cinder has a crazy day(s), one of the things that’s been missing from his rhythm is this alone time. He’s been with me and his sister 24/7 and frankly, he just wants us to go away, but that’s a hard thing to say to people you love, so he acts like a bum instead to make us go away. I’m working on giving him the words to say it, and helping him recognize that it’s ok
to say, “I just want to be by myself for a while.”

His sister recognizes this about herself much more intuitively. She will take a basket of toys into the bathroom and close the door on herself, announcing that she “needs some privacy.” And she’ll stay there for a long stretch of time, 30 minutes, an hour–until someone desperately has to pee because we only have one bathroom–playing by herself, being by herself, enjoying her privacy.

Children need a private inner life. This need manifests in different ways and is fulfilled in different ways, but I do think it’s pretty much universal–everyone needs some space in which to just be themselves, by themselves, without an audience, however loving or unobtrusive.

Filling this need, safely, as a parent, involves a whole lot of judgement calls. Cinder just wandered past my desk carrying a pair of scissors. I followed him onto the balcony, saw that he had a pile of construction paper on the table there, and retreated. Had he been three, instead of almost six, and heading towards his sister’s precious dolls (or head!), I probably would have stayed. Had be been heading somewhere with a box of matches―or for a box of matches―I would have offered rather obtrusive supervision. Judgement calls.

Cinder and Flora wrap up their focused (unsupervised) together time. They call me away from my own alone, private time and time of reflection, and we all three embark on a very complicated craft that requires my participation and very active supervision (“No! Melted wax is hot! Gah!”). And then they’re tired of each other, and of me. Flora takes a basket of toys to the bathroom. Cinder heads outside to run laps around the Common. When they come back to me, I resolve not to ask them what they were doing, what they were thinking.

Maybe they’ll tell me. Maybe they won’t. Either outcome’s okay.

Children have private lives and they need privacy. (Based on an April 2008 day and previously published list post).

What are your thoughts on the private lives of children? How do your children take their private time? How did you come to recognize this need?