The undocumented year

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

So.

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.

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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.

Ugh.

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?

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I don’t know.

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

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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.

But.

I don’t know.

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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.

xoxo

“Jane”

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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A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #11

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

A conversation:

Sean: You know what a good job for Flora would be? Designing coins for the Canadian mint.

Flora: Yeah, that would be pretty cool. I bet I’d be good at that.

Cinder: Please, please, please, if you do get that job, please, please, please design a coin with a penis on it.

Flora: Um… how about if I design a coin with your face on it?

Cinder: No, do one with a penis.

Flora: You’d be more famous if I designed a coin with your face on it.

Cinder: I’d rather be famous for my penis.

Zeus help me.

July 29, 2012

 

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Hafiz. But not just any rendition of Hafiz. Daniel Ladinsky’s Hafiz. Start with Ladinksy’s The Gift.

A taste:

Those kisses you sent, I found them wandering
around the house. They were acting a little
lost, not knowing exactly where I was.

I was busy upstairs. But now we are all having
tea and talking about you, and wishing you
were here.

And they imparted all you intended. They did
well.

One more thing: I have seen you at your best
and at your worst; still you are always welcome
near me.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of being cynical:

Hafiz makes me fall in love with the world, and so, while you’re reading Hafiz this week, I want you to write about loving the world. Through the week, carry a handful of index cards and a pen with you, and whenever you see something you love, whip out a card and write about it.

And when you see someone you love, tell them you love them. And then, write about what it felt like.

(I know, I’m totally going soft. It’s Hafiz…)

 

An explanation:

This is the eleventh 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:

Biking as a metaphor for life

first published on June 5, 2012

We’re out on our bikes all the time again, and we’re a bit of a gong-show―Ender, Maggie the rat, er, runt Terrier in the biggest bicycle ever (this one), Cinder on his snake bike, Flora on a bike she can barely lift―but needs to ride instead of the little one she can handle because that’s the only way she can keep up with her big brother. Cinder’s usually up ahead, Flora chases him for a while then falls back to ride with me. Ender squeals with delight and Maggie squeals with terror. And I get all sappy, watching them ride, and remembering that it wasn’t that long ago that I had both Cinder and Flora in a trailer behind me… and then Cinder on training wheels… and then Cinder on a little bike…

When Cinder dropped his training wheels and we started going for longer bike rides, I noticed one day how we were usually riding–he in front, setting the pace, going like a madman at first, then slower and slower, and me behind, pulling his sister in the trailer, keeping an eye on the path and possible obstacles, the two of us occasionally stopping to talk, then moving on…

And I was earnestly, sappily, struck with how we biked was so reflective of how I saw parenting and learning and living and all of that.

 And I got so in love with this metaphor, and started writing it out in more detail in my head and developing it into a huge life-changing thesis that I was going to write up for one of my yahoo groups or an article or maybe an entire book … that I stopped paying attention to the path and the real universe around me and I rode right into a post.

Lesson learned?

Nope. I’m cycling hard, chasing Cinder, keeping an eye on Flora, restraining Maggie, chatting to Ender, but my mind again turns the moment into a metaphor and a story―and bam!

It might even have been the same lightpost.

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Here we are after conquering a hill in Waterton Lakes National Park. Ender’s napping in the baby seat and missing the view.

Mosaic II

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I.

What happens today is that I’m spending some time thinking about one year ago, but no time at all thinking about one year from now, which, on the whole, is an improvement.

And I’m not thinking about one year ago that much. Just a little. And mostly, the memory is accentuating my gratitude for today. Which is as it should be, right?

One year ago, I was 365 days poorer.

II.

“Moooom! Look! I made a giant poop in the toilet! I made you a birthday POOP!”

“Oh, sweetheart! I! Am! So! Happy!”

…and if your five-year-old had undergone a more-than-two-year-long toilet training regression, you too would think this is the best birthday present ever.

III.

Twenty years ago, I turned 21 at an R.E.M. concert.

IV.

In this precise moment, I’m listening to Leonard Cohen (but not crying) because instead of sitting in the bathtub in the dark, I’m sitting on my balcony in the sunshine, drinking Awake! tea and feeling mildly guilty—but not really—about all the work I didn’t do today. But fuck it, it’s my birthday and +22 and sunny and so, no. Instead, I roast hot dogs with my kids over a firepit for lunch while wearing my new dress (thank you, baby, your taste is immaculate) and I listen to that song again (oh, yes) and my fingers are covered with all the new shades of pastels I now have to play with and I don’t look in the laundry room once.

But I do the dishes and clean the kitchen. Because. Adult.

Leonard Cohen is telling me it’s closing time and to lift my glass to the awful truth which you can’t revealed to the Ears of Youth, and I laugh. There’s a note in my in-box from an editor, asking me if I’d like to spin a column about the rates (high) of depression among Millennials in the workplace.

Meh. Today, only give me cheery things.

xoxo

“Jane”

Biking as a metaphor for life

We’re out on our bikes all the time again, and we’re a bit of a gong-show―Ender, Maggie the rat, er, runt Terrier in the biggest bicycle ever (this one), Cinder on his snake bike, Flora on a bike she can barely lift―but needs to ride instead of the little one she can handle because that’s the only way she can keep up with her big brother. Cinder’s usually up ahead, Flora chases him for a while then falls back to ride with me. Ender squeals with delight and Maggie squeals with terror. And I get all sappy, watching them ride, and remembering that it wasn’t that long ago that I had both Cinder and Flora in a trailer behind me… and then Cinder on training wheels… and then Cinder on a little bike…

When Cinder dropped his training wheels and we started going for longer bike rides, I noticed one day how we were usually riding–he in front, setting the pace, going like a madman at first, then slower and slower, and me behind, pulling his sister in the trailer, keeping an eye on the path and possible obstacles, the two of us occasionally stopping to talk, then moving on…

And I was earnestly, sappily, struck with how we biked was so reflective of how I saw parenting and learning and living and all of that.

 And I got so in love with this metaphor, and started writing it out in more detail in my head and developing it into a huge life-changing thesis that I was going to write up for one of my yahoo groups or an article or maybe an entire book … that I stopped paying attention to the path and the real universe around me and I rode right into a post.

Lesson learned?

Nope. I’m cycling hard, chasing Cinder, keeping an eye on Flora, restraining Maggie, chatting to Ender, but my mind again turns the moment into a metaphor and a story―and bam!

It might even have been the same lightpost.

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Here we are after conquering a hill in Waterton Lakes National Park. Ender’s napping in the baby seat and missing the view.