A narcissist, a psychopath, and a hypocrite walk into a bar…

I.

Put in a position where I must act either like a social hypocrite or a ruthless bitch without feelings, I don’t even choose the latter—I am the latter because I can’t be the former—and by the way, this convention, this use of latter and former, is so fucking pretentious, I can’t believe I’m using it. Confession: when I encounter it when reading, I always have to scrunch up my forehead, and look carefully—ok, latter refers to… ok, got it… I think… or did I screw it up? Is former before? Former’s before, right? And latter is later? Why didn’t they just say first point, second point? Or parse the sentence differently?

Anyway. My point: I don’t choose to be the ruthless bitch without feelings. I just am one.

Except, of course I’m not. Well. I can be ruthless. But ruthlessness is a characteristic that’s rooted in pretty intense emotions. For me, anyway. And acting ruthless involves looking at the intensity of those emotions… and then cutting a straight ruthless path through them… to the right thing.

The right thing, being, of course, an entirely subjective thing, so let us qualify it as… the right thing for me, the right thing as perceived by me, the important thing in that moment.

The right thing, for short.

II.

Sometimes, I coach Flora on how to do the kind thing instead of the right thing. Because, you know, I want her to do better than me.

Flora: But don’t you think ruthless people are more efficient?

Fucking nailed it, baby. But I don’t think… efficiency… is the thing that’s supposed to make the world go round.

III.

I’m taking lessons in social hypocrisy from a psychopath.

No, seriously. He’s been tested. Not even a borderline psychopath. We’re talking, off-the-charts scores. But, he had a really good mother, who taught him how to… fake it.

Except he doesn’t call it that. He calls it analyzing a social situation and acting appropriately.

Jane: Ok, for the last time, I don’t have that gene.

Psychopath: Neither do I. It’s a socially learned behaviour. Let’s try again.

The lessons are not going well. I think, at least in part… because I’m proud of my INability to engage in that type of behaviour. You know?

Although I do know… white lies make the world go round.

IV.

Ender has that gene. In spades.

Cinder: He’s lying!

Ender: I’m not!

He is… except in his head, he’s just saying the thing everyone wants to hear. Well, not everyone. His parents.

Cinder: Stinking little liar!

Jane: He’s not lying, sweetie, he’s just…

What? Protecting himself? Protecting me. Something like that. It’s not a bad thing, you know. As someone who doesn’t have that ability, I do appreciate it in others.

V.

Except when I don’t.

Jane: And for fuck’s sake, next time? Just tell me—‘I don’t want to—I just really need to be alone.’ Don’t come up with excuses. False excuses have no place between friends.

Her: You’re telling me you wouldn’t have been mad if I had told you the real reason?

Jane: I would have been fucking livid. For five minutes. Then I would have moved on.

Her: You are very scary when you are livid.

Truth.

Jane: I would have been livid in the privacy of my head.

Her: …

Jane: I would have tried to be livid in the privacy of my head.

Her: …

Jane: Ok, I would have probably freaked out at you. For five minutes. Then I would have moved on, and apologized.

Her: …

Jane: What? I am really good at apologizing.

I’m just not that good at social lying.

Which is actually hilarious, because I’m really good at story telling. And you’d think the two would be related.

But they’re not.

VI.

Something else that’s ironic: the psychopath occasionally calls me a hypocrite.

Jane: What the hell? Seriously?

Psychopath: You have completely different expectations of other people than you have of yourself.

Jane: That’s not hypocrisy. That’s common sense. I’m not like other people, so of course I have different expectations of myself.

Psychopath: You might also be a narcissist.

Note to self: when a psychopath calls you a narcissist, it’s even odds whether he’s being casually analytical or coolly manipulative.

In either case, there’s only one right response.

Psychopath: OMFG, why are you crying?

Jane: Because you upset me!

See? I am not a ruthless bitch without feelings.

Just… ruthless.

xoxo

“Jane”

You: WTF?

Jane: I’m experimenting and practicing.

You: What? Incomprehensibility?

Jane: …

You: OMFG, why are you crying?

Jane: Because you just don’t understand me!

;P

PS New here? Catch up on the first three series of Postcards from Cuba. Or just browse.

POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: But we won’t get scurvy

For every farmer and back-to-lander there ever was, especially the Sunnyside Community Garden folk. 

Listen (a seven minute commitment):

& read:

prologue

Hi, Mom.

We’re all well and things are good. We have eggs! Long story—I’ll tell you about it when I get back.

12-eggs

I am not starving your grandchildren, but meat protein continues to be a bit of a challenge. We bought some inedible sausage the other day—I felt so bad about wasting it, but I had to throw it out. But the dumpster cats enjoyed it.

I found a butcher who’d sell to me—in most of the butcher shops near here, the meat is only available on the ration card, to Cubans—but it was pork hanging out in the full sun for god-knows how long, and it made me think about Islamic and Jewish prohibitions against eating pork… and you know what? There’s probably something in them. So we’re mostly eating chicken.

No first world whine—the chicken’s just fine.

Last Sunday, the supermarket was mobbed by a crowd before opening time, so I joined the line in case they were delivering something good—and it turned out to be chicken breasts—that kept us going for a full week. This week, there were chicken legs and thighs—imported from Brazil, and, judging by the Arabic writing on the packaging, destined for Algeria.

Still, between the eggs and the ice cream, we’re doing pretty good. J

M.

2-2-free-range-chicks-nbtb

I.

Cinder: “We’re not eating a lot of vegetables while we’re here, are we?”

Dammit. If he—who tries to convince me that ketchup and salsa are vegetables back home—is noticing this, we really must be vegetable deficient.

Jane: “I’ll go to the Agro when I go to pick up the matches. Anyone want to come with me?”

Cinder: “Nope.”

Flora: “Not really.”

Jane: “Really? No one? I’m pretty sure I get better prices when you guys are with me.”

Ender: “I’ll go with you. But only if you buy me ice cream after.”

Blackmailer.

Jane: “Deal.”

7-fruit

II.

I pay $2 pesos (CUP, or moneda nacional) for a box of matches—which seems to be excessive, because a street cigar also costs $2 local pesos, and a cone of ice cream $3, so, $2 pesos? Really? The unshaven man wearing unmatched shoes is insistent, and I need matches, so I fork over another coin—but don’t buy cigars from him.

$2 CUP, as far as I figure it, is $0.08 CUC (but don’t take my word for it, my Cuban math sucks), which is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a box of matches… it’s just that shouldn’t a box of matches—especially of matches that don’t work that well—cost significantly less than a cigar?

(I find out later that $2 pesos is the standard street price for matches. Who knew?)

Matches in one hand and Ender’s sticky hand in the other, I hike over to the Agro… which is empty. Closed. Fuck. It’s Monday. Of course.

Vendor: “Hey, woman who hates my tomatoes—you want to buy some fruit?”

It’s one of the vendors from whom I’ve bought beans, bananas and carrots—from whom I refused to buy tomatoes—and whose brother asked me if I wanted to buy lobster. Which he was lugging around in a backpack.

2-2-agroplateofshrimp-nbtb

I didn’t buy it.

Jane: “Yes… but I see you’re closed.”

Vendor: “That’s not a problem. Come in.”

I follow him through the gate—his father (genes, they be powerful things) blows me a kiss and makes a face at Ender—into a back room full of crates and agro workers, who are allegedly sorting… but mostly chilling and smoking.

Vendor: “We have everything, everything. What do you want? We have bananas, mangoes, guava, papaya…”

Jane: “Tomatoes?”

Vendor: “I remember you hate my tomatoes, but today we have beautiful tomatoes.”

He’s right. They’re gorgeous—by which I mean neither rotting nor green. The bananas, alas, are falling apart, and so are the mangoes. I’m regretful—I’ve been dying to try one of the giant Cuban mangoes, but it’s between seasons, so they’re all rotten.

He finds me a bunch of bananas that are still more yellow than brown—ripe, lusciously sweet, but not yet liquid. Another bunch that he says I must eat today. I don’t want to take it but it’s too late—it’s in my bag.

2-2-agro-nbtb

Vendor: “What else?”

What else? I look around.

Jane: “Cucumbers. Not limp ones like last time.”

Jesus. I can’t believe I said that. Everyone in the room starts howling while I turn red, and I pretend I don’t understand what he says next.

Vendor: “Casava?”

Jane: “No.”

Vendor: “Still haven’t learned how to cook it?”

Yeah. Not a clue what to do with it. Cut it? Bake it? Shred it?

Jane: “Carrots?”

Vendor: “Um… no carrots. Oranges?”

Jane: “No, I don’t like the oranges.”

Vendor 2: “These are incredible, delicious, oranges.”

Jane: “I haven’t had good oranges in Cuba yet. They’re all sour.”

Vendor 2: “No, no, these are delicious, so sweet. Hold on, I’ll peel one for you.”

Ender starts dancing—he’s my orange-loving Orange Boy—and he’s missed oranges, and resented my refusal to buy them (after the first few purchases of inedible green balls of sour juice-less-ness). To my surprise, the orange is actually orange inside and juicy and delicious.

Vendor: 2: “Yeah?”

Jane: “Yeah.”

Vendor 3: “How about guava? Do you like guava?”

Jane: “I love guava, but this is too…”

I can’t remember the word for rotten—that would be rude anyway—and I’m afraid to say soft.

Vendor 4: “Here, this one is perfect. No charge.”

I hand over $5CUC for a pound or two of tomatoes, two cucumbers, three pounds of bananas, and a bag of oranges I can barely lift. “Oh, I see limes, give me a lime,” I add. They give me a lime. And change. I give it back. “For the service.” “No, no.” They shake their heads.

Put more limes in my bag.

Jane: “Enough, enough!”

2-2-emptysupermarket-nbtb

III.

Flora: “Did you get any meat?”

Jane: “Um. No.”

Flora: “What did you get?”

I empty the bags onto the kitchen counter.

Cinder: “Wow, are you worried we’re going to get scurvy?”

Jane: “Maybe a little.”

Cinder: “You shouldn’t be. What about all that orange pop we’re drinking?”

Right. Fortified with Vitamin C?

Maybe?

12-supermarkethaul

*

This month’s Postcards from Cuba are brought to you by my creative and illogical approach to finance. You can help! Be my patron, won’t you? Support Postcards from Cuba and Nothing By The Book. Buy me a coffee? A $5 donation is delicious:

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*

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

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

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

See you next week,

“Jane”

Party in Purgatory

I.

File under “proof we get the kids we’re raising”:

Jane (texting): Check in and report.

Flora: We’re all dead.

Jane: Dammit. All three?

Flora: Yup.

Jane: Knew I should have had four.

I know, I know. She’s going to need therapy.

Jane: Home in 5 min to start planning the funeral.

Flora: Where are you?

Jane: Walking. By Sammie’s Park.

Flora. Yay… CAR!

Confession: it took me a while to get it. But I got it.

Jane: Fuck, it hit me and now I’m dead too.

Flora: Yay, party in purgatory. Is that the right word?

Jane: Pretty sure we’re all going straight to hell.

Flora: Yup.

nbtb-party in purgatory

II.

When I was 21, I had a friend—then 28—who used to say that doing the things you didn’t want to do that had to be done when they had to be done—and not putting them off until tomorrow—was the sign of a grown up.

She was a grown up. I was working on it.

The world is sadly devoid of grown ups these days, don’t you think?

nbtb-support local

III.

 

So, I went and I did the things. Some of them anyway. Sigh. Being a grown up is so utterly unrewarding sometimes. So. Now, it’s time to play.

Your assignment for this week: Every time you want to check Facebook or text someone—including me—you’re going to pull out your notebook or laptop, and write for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter what. Feel free to write, “I really want to check Facebook, and that bitch said I couldn’t. Who died and made her God? Why am I doing this? I’m so going to check Facebook.” (And you can, love. After you write for 10 minutes first.)

You: “That sounded more like practice than play.”

Jane: “It’s both. You can’t play the game until you’ve practiced the basic moves a few times.”

IV.

Coolest thing I saw/experienced this week:

nbtb-glasscollective2

It’s a PORTABLE glass blowing studio. I know, right? Check out GlassHouseCollective for more info… and play with fire this summer, will you?

xoxo

“Jane”

PS If you’re in yyc, check this out:

Sofar Sounds Show / July 16, 2016, 6:00pm
Location to be announced to attendees
Free, donations accepted, register for your invitation

“Are you familiar with Sofar? No? Well you should be! Its goal is to find local artists and host private, acoustic sessions in intimate, alternative settings. Think a curated house, gallery or museum concert. Each one is hosted by volunteers who welcome 50 to 100 music lovers into their space, along with three to five local music acts. Those who have signed up and are chosen will be given the address day before the event but the lineup will remain a mystery.” sofarsounds.com

PS2 If you’re looking for POSTCARDS FROM CUBA, start here or jump to the table of contents… and, please consider supporting the project with a $5 contribution:

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… and the rest of the postcards will start flowing your way in September.

Jane: “What? Can you give more? Oh, baby, as many zeros after that five as your affluence permits! But a $5 contribution DOES make a difference.”

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #5

A conversation:

Cinder: What does humanitarian mean? Is it someone who eats only humans?

Sean: Um… what?

Cinder: You know, like vegetarian means someone who eats vegetables?

Sean: No. It’s someone who… cares a lot about humanity—about humans.

Cinder: Oh.

Pause.

Cinder: Well, that makes a lot more sense.

July 31, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. She’s going to tell you about the magic of shitty first drafts.

 

A writing exercise to do when you’re utterly stuck, kinda bored, and only have ten minutes:

Open a book, any book. Page 77. Sixth sentence. Got it? Type it into Google translator + copy it into your notebook. Translate into Japanese. Then copy the Japanese text. Translate it back into English. Copy it into your notebook. Don’t laugh. Repeat with Dutch. Repeat with another language. Repeat once, twice more.

Now… write a few paragraphs about the absurdity of translation…

 

An explanation:

This is the fifth 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. Except, the one today, is mostly just fun.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

House Rule #713, or, why we don’t host a lot of dinner parties

 (first published April 12, 2012)

Sean: Gaaah! My children are grossing me out!

Jane: What?

Sean: They’re playing with vermin! While I’m eating lunch!

Jane: Oh… Flora, do you have to change the meal worms’ bedding right now?

Flora: Yes. Because I’m supposed to do it every Sunday, and I didn’t have any Raisin Bran yesterday.

Cinder: Do the meal worms eat the raisins?

Flora: No, I’m picking out the raisins.

Sean: Didn’t you specifically tell me to buy the Raisin Bran?

Flora: Yes. The raisins are for me.

Jane: Ender! You can’t eat your turkey wrap if you’re playing with the meal worms. Here, give it to me.

Sean: New house rule. No eating while playing with vermin.

Cinder: Good one. How many does that make?

Jane: I don’t know. 713.

Cinder: Huh. I remember when we just had one.

Flora: Really? Which was was that?

Cinder: Pants at the table. Mom put it in place after the penis in scalding soup incident.

Jane: You remember that?

Cinder: Do you think I’ll ever forget?

Sean: Flora! There is a meal worm crawling towards my plate!

PS We have 24 meal worms–beetle larvae–living in our kitchen because a neighbour gave them to Flora. We’re getting him a kitten next week. Cause apparently that’s the new way we’re showing each other love in our neighbourhood. By giving our children pets. Patrick, you’ve been warned.

Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae)

Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thinking about doing…

This is me, standing at the kitchen sink, thinking about doing my laundry:

— no, of course I’m not going to post a picture, if I had, the caption would have to be, “This is me, taking a picture of myself standing at the kitchen sink, thinking about doing my laundry,” and that would have been just too meta for what I want to do –

…and, this is still me, standing at the stove, watching water boil, thinking about doing my laundry, and also, that I have clothes for at least two more days, maybe four if I ration and don’t spill anything on myself at meal time (could happen), and

— I’m also not posting a picture because, when I say, “This is me, standing at the kitchen sink, thinking about doing my laundry,” can you not see me, anyway? I bet you can—tell me, am I wearing grubby clothes, am I wrapped in a dressing gown, or am I dressed to kill? –

and I’m about to stop thinking about it and actually walk down the stairs into the basement and start DOING it – cross my heart – when Ender walks into the kitchen, so instead, I text Sean:

“Your son will not stop eating!”

and I boil a giant pot of noodles—wait for it to come to a boil—set the timer for eight minutes—and during those eight minutes, think about doing my laundry, draft this post, drink four sips of coffee, and

Ender: “These are very boring noodles. Aren’t you going to put anything in them?”

Jane: “No.”

I’m almost ready to go downstairs and sort the delicates from the “I don’t give a craps”—I rinse the pasta pot and the strainer, turn off the red hot element on the stove, remember my coffee, sit down, take a long luxurious sip, really, I could probably not do my laundry for five more days, and I’ll have gym stuff to wash on Thursday anyway, so is doing the laundry a necessity or a make-work project?

Ender: “I ate all my boring noodles. Is there more?”

Jane: “No.”

Ender: “Can you make more?”

Jane: “Here. Please eat this raw steak, and if you’re still hungry, fill up on cookies.”

This is me, in my bedroom, thinking about doing my laundry. The prognosis looks good: I’m actually looking at the laundry, and so I think if I manage to make myself sort it—actually even if I just dump it out on the floor—that might be the magic step that pushes it and me magically towards the washing machine. But I’m not quite there yet, I’m still resisting, because

Text from Sean: “Growth spurt? Or tapeworms?”

thinking about laundry and creating a story—painting with words, a portrait—of a woman standing at a kitchen sink thinking about doing her laundry

–can you not see her? She has bare feet, because she’s out of socks, but that’s okay, because she still has clean stockings, she’ll just wear those today instead, so does she really need to do that laundry?

is more interesting than, you know, engaging in the actual act.

Enough. I’m going to do it.

Jane: “Goddammit, who’s using the washing machine?”

Flora: “Me. Do you need it? I’ve got two loads to go.”

Jane: “You go right ahead.”

This is me, at the kitchen table, drinking hot coffee, writing about thinking about doing my laundry.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-thinking about laundry

Episode #405: Pre-holiday Smörgåsbord

I.

Ender is crying that his daddy is at work.

Flora: Daddy has to work a lot right now because we have to eat and Mommy’s writing another book, and books don’t pay nearly as well as corporate whoring.

It’s one of those moments when you (I) just don’t know when to laugh or cry, right?

I laugh.

Note to Self: deploy internal censor more often when speaking in front of the children. And instruct Flora to not use the term “corporate whoring” when talking to her friends. Better yet, perhaps, I should stop using the term in front of Flora. Children. People, period.

II.

Flora’s lost my car keys and is panicking. She can’t find them, and we can’t leave, and it’s all her fault, and tears, panic, self-hate, help mom… I find them, in five seconds, under her brother’s ice-skating helmet. Then deliver a lecture about how panicking is a useful response only if it gives you the adrenaline boost you need to run away from a predator but is absolutely useless when you need to strategize, i.e. retrace your steps and figure out…

Cinder: Not helping, Mom.

True. I know this. What am I doing? Never, ever deliver a lecture to a hysterical child. Instead:

Jane: Ok, everyone in the car. No, don’t turn the radio. We’re going to listen to Beethoven’s violin sonatas until Flora calms down.

Flora: I’m good.

Jane: I think you’re still upset.

Flora: Totally good. Perfect. In total control of self and over that whole car key incident. Radio?

I preen.

Cinder: Well played, Mom.

And when I really need to shut them up? Sufi meditation music. Oh-yes. I say, “I’m going to play The Passion of Rumi,” and the car falls COMPLETELY SILENT and they will DO ANYTHING I ask…

Caution for the beginners in the crowd: the secret to the efficacy of this technique is to NOT overuse it. Deploy sparingly.

(Apply the same rule to the use of obscenity, in writing and speaking. That’s a separate conversation I have with Cinder a few minutes later.)

III.

I’m trying very hard to practice loving communication, mindfulness, presence, compassion, and then, traffic…

Jane: Goddammit, bitch, get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-and-let-me-merge, what-da’-fuck-is-wrong-with-you?

Cinder: You’re kind of a terrible role model.

Sob.

I’d turn on The Passion of Rumi to punish myself but I’ve raised clever children; they won’t let me.

IV.

I’m burning supper, and the kids are pretending to be helping, and nobody’s doing the dishes, but there are enough clean plates left to set the table and Ender is really really hungry and getting really really annoying and…

Jane: Cinder, please, please, please do something to amuse your brother for five more minutes so I can get supper on the table?

Cinder: But of course. At your service, sir-yes-sir. Ender, come here. Come here ya’ little buttsack. Listen. ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, children turn dead if you hold them by the neck for a minute or two.’ Look, I’m a poet, just like Mom.

My proudest moment.

V.

Actually, maybe this was my proudest moment:

Cinder: Mom, Mom, Mom, you have to see this!

And he’s right. I HAD to see it. And so do you:

 
[youtube http://youtu.be/I776Ibj3iTs]

Word.

VI.

For the writers in the crowd: Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers via BrainPickings.org

For you: “When I count my blessings, I count you twice.”

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-405 anatomy of a good day

tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram @NothingByTheBook

Priorities, baby, priorities—or, “I don’t” as an answer to “How do you do it all?”

I finally figured it out, and so I’m going to tell you. You see…

Ender: “Mom! Where are you?”

…you’ve been asking me for years, “How do you do it?” What I thought you were asking was “How do you work and take care of your babies; how do you write and homeschool” and variants on the above…

Flora: “Moooom! Where are you? Ender wants you!”

…and I would tell you, and you’d get this glazed and confused and frightened look in your eyes, and never actually—so it seemed to me—hear anything I said—certainly in no way heed my unadvice. But I had this immense epiphany the other day…

Cinder: “Mooooom! I want to make cookies; where the hell is the margarine?”

…that is was my fault—I wasn’t telling you what you needed to know, because I wasn’t hearing what you were asking. You see, while I thought you were asking…

Flora: “Mom, Ender just stole my orange marker, tell him he has to give it back!”

Cinder: “Hey, Mom, can you wash the good cookie sheet? It’s covered with chicken grease.”

Ender: “It’s! Not! Fair!”

… while I thought you were asking, “How do you find the time to write and take care of the kids and take care of the house and exercise and have a life and, and, and,” what you were actually asking…

Flora: “Mom, Ender won’t leave me alone!”

Ender: “Mom, Cinder pinched me!”

Cinder: “Mom, the little bugger stole my Lego guys again!”

…what you were actually asking is…

Ender: “Maaaaaa…”

Jane: “Shut up, shut up, shut up! GET OUT OF HERE! Now! Outside! All of you! Give me 30 minutes, and then you can come talk to me. Now—out. OUT!”

Flora: “Mom, it’s like zero degrees out. And raining.”

Jane: “OUT!”

Cinder: “Maybe she just means out of the room.”

Jane: “OOOOOOUUUUUTTTTT!”

Ender: “But I’m hungry!”

Jane: “There are bananas and bagels in the kitchen. GET! OUT! AND STOP ASKING ME FOR SHIT! OUT! NOW!”

… what you were asking me was “How do I work (write) while interacting meaningfully with my children while making amazing dinners while keeping an immaculate house while pursuing my personal interests ALL AT THE SAME TIME.”

Yeah. So, the answer to that…

I DON’T.

YOU CAN’T.

YOU WON’T.

If you have this picture in your head of your laptop computer on the kitchen table, and you writing a novel—or, fuck, even a 1500 word article—while washing the dishes, peeling potatoes and teaching your children math and having a meaningful conversation with your lover…

Cinder: “Are you done yet? About that baking tray…”

Jane: “Clean it yourself or make chicken-flavoured cookies, I don’t care, leave me alone!”

Flora: “Is she done?”

Cinder: “No, she’s still pissy.”

Jane: “Writing! I’m still writing!”

Cinder: “Writing, pissy. It’s kind of the same thing.”

Jane: “Only when you interrupt me. NOW GO AWAY!”

…you are dooming yourself to failure, because all those “while’s” are impossible.

You know this intellectually, right? You can’t, oh—have a shower WHILE typing on your laptop. Make risotto WHILE scrubbing the kitchen floor. Paint a bedroom wall WHILE having sex.

So. You can’t write (work) WHILE interacting meaningfully with your children (or cleaning house or making supper or buying groceries or doing yoga or…)

Now, you CAN—I do—do most of these things sequentially, at different parts of the day-week-month.

But…

You will do some better than others.

And choosing to give time to some things will mean less time for others.

Priorities, baby.

Again, you know this, intellectually, right? But practically… you never seem to hear me. You know, like when I tell you what a crappy housekeeper I am, or that my children eat cucumbers and mustard as snacks when I’m on deadline? And you think I’m being funny?

The truth: say, I have two hours. In those two hours—I can write a story—edit a chapter—craft a rough draft of a pitch.

Or. I can make risotto.

(I don’t, by the way, know how to make risotto. But I understand it involves standing at a stove for an eternity, stirring a pot of rice. Fuck. That.)

Or. I can scrub the kitchen floor and the stairs. Or, do laundry or make the beds or declutter.

Or, read a chapter or two of Harry Potter or Hank the Cow Dog or Wow! Canada to the kids, teach Ender to read, help Cinder with his math…

These are all things that I should do, and do do at some point in a week (month… year… except that risotto thing, that’s just NEVER going to happen).

But if what I need to do—want to do—with those two hours is write a story… then I have to use those two hours to write the damn story.

And that may mean ensuring other-adult child care for my children.

Jane: “Moooom! I’m on deadline, can you please come and take the monsters AWAY for a while BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Or, leaving the house for two hours for an adjacent coffee shop, so that the house—“The fridge really needs cleaning today, Jane, it does, it does, clean me!”—doesn’t make its passive-aggressive demands on me.

And, picking up a roast chicken or frozen pizza from the grocery store on the way home instead of making the perfect, healthier pizza crust from scratch (this, by the way, I can do and I do do… just not on deadline days, y’know?).

I have become much better at this over the years. Accepting that my time and energy are limited—as are yours—and becoming better and better at channeling that time and energy into the things that are really important to me.

So. I write. Every day. (Really. Sometimes, utter crap. But. Every. Day.)

Read with my kids. Take them on amazing adventures. (Most days.)

Exercise religiously, no matter how urgent the deadline, because, health.

Make guilt-free time for my friends and loves and just for myself, too—but not so much for organizing the Tupperware drawer (or for people who drain me).

Scrub the kitchen floor only when it gets to THAT level of filthy—or I desperately need to procrastinate (sometimes, that happens).

Never, ever make risotto.

Cinder: “You done yet?”

Jane: “Two minutes.”

(I think, by the way, that if making risotto is an essential part of who you are and need to be, you will find a way to make risotto and write/work and take care of your kids and all those other things. You will maybe let something else slide more than I do. Read less, stir more. Stay home more—the stirring demands it—and skin your knees in the wild less.)

Priorities, baby.

Cinder: “Hurry. I didn’t scrub the tray that well, the chicken fat caught fire and I can’t turn off the smoke alarm.”

Jane: “Coming.”

Priorities.

You’re welcome.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-priorities

P.S. Speaking of priorities—I’m taking a sabbatical in October and November from Nothing By The Book while I pursue other priorities. Stay in touch via Instagram (@NothingByTheBook), and come back in December, will you? I promise I will be back.

Oh, and babes—I want to take my brood to Cuba, Mexico or some other hot-and-beachy place for (ready for this?) January, February, March 2016. If you’ve got a lead on affordable and cockroach-light accommodation (so long as we’re walking distance to a swimmable beach, we are not picky, and will co-habit even with pestilent insects), email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com.

“Jane” out.

A colourful life

I.

Pop culture rules, according to Flora:

“If you wanna be a pop star, you’ve got to have a rapper friend.”

I think she nailed it, don’t you?

II.

Agriculture, as Ender sees it:

“Wheat is the most important crop, because you need it to make cupcakes. Everyone should grow more cupcakes. And also, popsicles.”

Goddammit. When I wasn’t paying attention, I raised a proponent of the default agricultural-cultural hegemony. Where, oh-where, to start the deprogramming?

III.

Cinder wants to make my life more colourful:

Jane: “What! The! Hell! Did! You! Do! To! The! Toilet!”

Cinder: “I put red food colouring in the toilet tank. See?”

Jane: “OMFG. You’ve dyed the porcelain of our toilet pink.”

Cinder: “Really?”

Jane: “Really. Fuck. I don’t know if bleach will take it out. What were you thinking, baby?”

Cinder: “That it would be pretty?”

Well. That it is.

IV.

So, this just came out of my mouth:

“Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

No, I did not just give you an argument for the existence of God. Did I? Fuck. That was not my intent… What I meant was…

You know what? Do with that what you will. I have no control over what happens in your head… Indeed, I don’t understand what happens in there are all…

But that’s okay. I’m a mystery to you too, aren’t I?

Yet we both exist… 😉

V.

The six mantras of loving speech, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

  1. I am here for you.

  2. I know you are there, and I’m happy.

  3. I know you suffer, and that’s why I’m here for you.

  4. I suffer. Please help.

  5. This is a happy moment.

  6. You are partly right.

(The Art of Communicating)‎

VI.

Flora: “You’re going to blog about the pink toilet bowl, aren’t you?

Jane: “How can I not? But I gave you the lead, chickadee. Look.”

Flora: “Ooooh. Cool. Who are you going to close with?”

I think… with Hafez. Sort of.

VII.

This is for you. And you. And you. And her, the one hiding over there, her too:

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.

Daniel Ladinsky, channeling Hafez

xoxo

“Jane”

photo (71)

Photo: Pimping our ride for Beakerhead (also, messy hands from another art project)! If you live in yyc and environs, you’re Beakerheading this week, right? Right.

Read my mind, Part I

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.

II.

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.

III.

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…)

IV.

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.

V.

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.

*

VI.

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

xoxo

“Jane”

Roadkill

I.

The car in front of us hits a jaywalking squirrel and as I swerve to not roll over the destroyed, twitching little body, Flora bursts into tears.

“Can we stop, can we save it?”

There is nothing to save; it is too dangerous to stop. I shake my head. She weeps all the way to the library. I reach out and hold her hand and let tears well up in my eyes.

(The mother I was two years ago, would have told her to control herself, to get a grip, to stop.)

II.

It’s 8:30 p.m., and the sun is low even here, and so the lake beach is deserted and the lake water, never warm, freezing cold. Flora and I are swimming through it, to the floating dock. There was a dead fish floating there earlier that she really, really wanted to examine… I promised we’d come back when all the other children—who were so grossed out by her zoologist’s desire to see what the fish was, how it died, where its wounds were they screeched and screamed and called for their parents—were gone.

The children are gone, and so is the fish.

Flora, disappointed, lets tears come. Then lets them dry up. We swim through the cold water, back to the shore.

(That’s the mother I want to be: the kind who goes back to the beach at sunset and swims through ice cold water to look for a dead fish with my child. Write that on my tombstone.)

III.

I can’t remember why they start planning my funeral, exactly—Flora and Cinder, I mean. I think it’s because we’re talking about the suicides of various famous people, and of course that naturally segues to burials and funeral rites and wakes, and I say how I really don’t want to have a funeral, but I realize it’s not about me—I’ll be dead, what do I care—it’s about the other people. And Flora, party planner extra-ordinaire, says,

“We’ll make it a big, big party! Who do you want to invite?”

“I don’t fucking care; I’ll be dead. All the people who want to come: all the people who love me.”

“We should invite all the people who hate you too; they’ll be really happy to dance at your funeral. Do you keep a list of those?”

I don’t. But apparently, I should, for my funeral.

Cinder prepares the song list. He’s going to lead with “Highway to Hell.” Follow up with “Staying Alive.”

Flora adds “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” (“Especially if you’re murdered,” she says. WTF? I think.) Also, the Barenaked Ladies’ “Big Bang Theory Theme Song.” She pauses. “We end with Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ It’ll be kind of ironic, get it?”

I suggest the “Macarena” instead. They don’t get it.

(The human I want to be doesn’t want to be afraid of dying. And I don’t think, if I lead the full life I want to lead, I will be. Will I? So hard to know what will be. Hard enough to be aware, appreciative of what is.)

IV.

Ender’s favourite bedtime book right now is I’m A Seed, written by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by  Judith Moffatt.

“How many books are you going to read me tonight, Mama?”

he asks. I consult the level of exhaustion in my body.

“Four.”

I say.

He asks me to read I’m A Seed four times.

I raise my eyebrows. Feel “No” and rebellion rising in my chest, and then pause. What is the difference between reading the one book I’ve already read him dozens of times four times tonight… and reading four books I’ve already read him dozens of times?”

I read:

“I’m a seed!”

“Me too!”

Four times. Treat it as meditation.

(That’s the mother-human I always aspire to be; too often fail. Today, I achieve. Kiss his sweaty head as he falls asleep. Realize I’ve forgotten to brush his teeth. Fuck.)

V.

“Mom? Are you still thinking about the dead squirrel?”

No. Not even a little bit. But that’s not what she wants to hear.

“Mmmm. You?”

“Yes.”

I hold her tight.

nbtb-roadkill

xoxo

“Jane”

Anarchy, not

I.

So. This happens:

Cinder: Mom! The light in the bathroom burned out!

Jane: I know!

Cinder: Are you going to put in a new bulb?

Jane: Well, I was thinking about it, but the bathroom was getting really grodie, to that “I need to clean it or the world will end” state, and I was starting to feel bad about it, like I should maybe, you know, clean it, but now that it’s dark in there, I don’t feel that way, so now I can get back to that “OMFG-it’s-finished-it’s-almost finished” project and…

Flora: Oh-my-god-mom-you’re-insane. Where are the bulbs?

Jane: Home Depot.

Flora: We have no spare light bulbs in the house?

Jane: Well, they were in the basement, but then there was that flood thing…

Flora: That was two years ago.

Cinder: Are you saying you’re not going to put a new bulb in the bathroom? Do you expect me to pee in the dark?

Jane: Entitled child, how hard is it to get your pee into the toilet? Leave the door open!

Flora: Mom! You have two sons!

Cinder: You will regret this.

Fuck. I will. I know.

Fortunately, when their father comes home and notices the bathroom light’s burned out, he just changes it. Without fanfare, drama.

II.

“everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus”

The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection

III.

I am too practical-cynical-critical and insufficiently romantic to be an anarchist. But I enjoyed reading J. Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2014) enormously.

IV.

Sean: Are you going to write about the end of the nuclear family again? Cause that always makes me twitchy.

Jane: No, not the end…

V.

The thing is, what’s inane/sad about the family nucleus is that it’s NOT ENOUGH. It needs to be one part of the web of the relationships that support parents, children. Not the end-all, be-all.

The beginning? The centre? I’m not even sure about that. Because it isn’t the beginning, unless you reject/lose where you—the adults—come from… And the centre? Sometimes, maybe.

And sometimes, not.

And throughout: it’s not enough to have just one other adult watching your back, providing you with support—define support as you will, emotional, physical, financial, other. I know you despise clichés, Internet memes and tried-and-truisms as much as I do… but…

 

You: Are you going to say ‘It takes a village’ again? Cause I’m gonna vomit if you do.

Me: At this moment, I don’t think even a village is enough. It takes an entire society, culture. Think about it. Everything is related, interdependent…

VI.

“Mutual aid or mutual protection or new notions of exchange actually flourish already in the worlds we inhabit and those we are making as we go—open-source exchanges on the Web, cooperative food collectives, subcultures, new modes of kinship, and different understandings of our mutual responsibilities exist already for the purpose of exchange and not profit, and this motion of working with others rather than in competition is probably the only thing that will save us from the greed of free-market economies.”

Jack Halberstam,
Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal

VII.

You: You’re incoherent, and just kind of babbling.

Me: I know. I have too many thoughts in my head, and I can’t exert any kind of discipline upon them at the moment.

You: How almost anarchistic of you.

Me: Shut up and let me free-form.

VIII.

Cinder: Mom? Can we turn on the sprinkler in the back?

Jane: No!

Cinder: Why not? It’s like 100 degrees Celsius!

It’s not. It’s only 33. Still. For a Northern Hemisphere human: boiling hot.

Jane: Because you will turn the weed patch into a mud pit, get filthy, and then need baths, and I’ll have to clean the bathroom!

Cinder: You said it was so grodie you had to clean it anyway!

Point. Sigh.

I text Sean: Why, why, why did you have to put a new light bulb in the bathroom?

Sean: You’re welcome?

Jane: Sob.

Sean: Are you ok? Is your work not going well? I thought you were at the “OMFG-it’s-finished-it’s-almost-finished” stage?

Jane: But then you fixed the light in the bathroom.

See? EVERYTHING is connected.

IX.

There is a mud pit in my backyard, my bathroom is still filthy, I’m proofing that “OMFG-I-think-it’s-finished” project, and I’m planning a party.

I think I’ll clean the bathroom for that. Actually…

Jane: Hey, Flora? Wanna make $20?

Flora: Does it involve taking care of Ender while you write?

Jane: No…

Flora: Let’s talk.

Tapping into the greed of free-market economies for the win…

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-anarchy not

Difficult-awkward-flow

nbtb-difficult-awkward-flow

I.

Sometimes, I do this: stroke into stroke into letter into letter into word into word into sentence and another one and look, there’s a paragraph, and then, what?

There is a book, by Stanely Eugene Fish, called, How To Write A Sentence. It is an academic book, a critical analytical reader’s book, a lover of words book, but not a writer’s book. No writer should ever read it.

Flora: “Whatcha doing, Mom?”

Jane: “I’m writing about writing.”

Flora: “Is that as pointless as reading about reading?”

Jane: “Pretty much.”

But I’m doing it because in this moment, writing about anything else is too difficult.

II.

I’m at this conference thing, and there’s a break, and the room naturally, inevitably divides into editors and writers. The editors are talking about participles and dangling modifiers.

The writers don’t actually know what any of those words mean.

That’s why we have editors.

III.

Jane: “Why! Are! You! Guys! So! Evil!”

Cinder: “It’s not our fault, Mom. It’s the way we were raised.”

Flora: “They fuck you up, your Mom and Dad.”

Ender: “I! Am! The! Most! Evil! Thing! In! The! World!”

IV.

Stroke into stroke into letter into word into sentence… it’s called practice, perseverance. It becomes chasing flow. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t—there is only word after word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, oh, fuck, look, 500 words, 1400 words, it’s done. It’s not good. But it’s done. (The editors will make it better. Sometimes, even good.)

You can’t explain that to the people who say “Oh, I just love to write.” See, because they stop as soon as it’s difficult.

V.

I used to procrastinate by cleaning house, did I ever tell you that? My mom or Sean would take the kids out, I’d sit at the computer, the words wouldn’t come, and I’d get on my hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor until it shone. Clean baseboards. That awkward-to-reach place in the bathroom.

I don’t do that anymore. I chase flow. The kitchen floor be damned.

Sean: “You’ve noticed I clean the kitchen floor now, right?”

Jane: “Um… sure, baby. Yes. Thank you so much.”

Jane: “Um… do you ever clean that awkward-to-reach place in the bathroom?”

Sean: “There’s an awkward-to-reach place in the bathroom?”

Yeah… I wonder what’s growing there…

But not enough to check.

xoxo,

“Jane”

Stumbling On Happiness: First, find a squished beetle…

NBTB-Stumbling on Happiness

So she writes and says, “You haven’t been funny in a while, whazzup?” And I get all defensive and spittle goes out the corners of my mouth—she’s so lucky she’s writing from far away and not sitting across from me. But then I think… haven’t I? Perhaps not. It’s probably Joan Didion’s fault. That, and too much poetry, not enough television. That’s it. Ok. Funny. Funny, funny, funny. I haven’t forgotten how to do funny. Here you go, love:

I.

So we’re walking down the street in the coolest ‘hood in YYC and they’re skipping and I’m skipping and all of a sudden Flora’s in tears, tears, tears, because—squished click beetle, so-very-dead, on the sidewalk.

Cinder: “Look! Another sign of spring!”

And that just makes it worse of course, tears, tears, what to say, wah, I don’t know, must say something, so I say…

Jane: “Sweetheart. Don’t cry. Someone will eat it and it will be part of…”

Flora: “Ugh! That is so gross!”

Cinder: “Betcha Ender will eat it.”

Ender: “Eat what?”

Cinder: “The dead beetle.”

Ender: “Mmmm… maybe?”

Jane: “I meant a bird or something! Not one of you!”

Flora: “Are you sure, Mom? Cause you’re kinda disgusting…”

And also, tricky. D’you see what I did there? Tears—gone.

Click beetle—not eaten by one of my children. But it’s not there when we walk back.

Jane: “See? Someone ate it.”

Cinder: “I bet it was that guy. Look—he’s a-chewing something…”

Ew, ew, ew.

Birds. I’m sure it was birds.

II.

Wow, I think that was it. I. Got. Nothing.

Too much poetry.

III.

yeah… nuthin. Nuthin, nuthin, nuthin funny coming out.

Sorry.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS I’ve just finished reading Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness—brilliant, get it, read it, devour it—and, here, have a joke on Dan:

Two psychologists walk into a bar. One says. “You’re fine. How am I?”

Funny? I don’t know. But this video by Gilbert is funny AND it will tell you why you keep on making choices that don’t make ya’ happy. It won’t tell you how to stop doing that… but, you know. He had to save something for the book:

Original Gilbert TED talk on TED

PS2 Actually, if you’re gonna read the book because you want to make better choices, let me save you some time: you’re kinda screwed, you’re not gonna… but at least you’ll know why. And it’s fatalistic. But if you’re not gonna read the book, at least read this: The Psychology of Your Future Self.

PS3 Why are you still here? Go get off your laptop or ‘fone, find a squished click beetle, stake it out, and see who eats it…

Days of the Week

I.

Yesterday was the day I wanted to brush Ender’s hair. (I do brush their hair, sometimes.)

Jane: Where the hell is the hairbrush? … OK, so I last brushed your hair, right here, in the middle of the living room. Um… what are the odds that I would have taken it back upstairs to the bathroom?

Cinder: Pretty much zero.

Flora: That doesn’t sounds like something you’d do.

Ender: Didn’t you throw it across the room because you got so mad at me?

We find it. In the Lego tub.

Jane: I definitely did not put it there.

Flora: Don’t look at me.

Cinder: It was probably Ender.

Ender: Sounds like something I would do. So Mom couldn’t find it.

II.

Today is the day that I explain to the children that reading a 700 page book of poetry backwards-and-at-random while listening to Leonard Cohen is something I NEED to do for WORK. IT’s WORK, dammit.

Flora: It. So. Is. Not.

Jane: Pretend it’s the Government of Canada’s Technical Guidance on Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions and LEAVE ME ALONE!

III.

Monday was the day I locked myself in my office (it’s a metaphor; I don’t actually have a door) (I don’t exactly have an office either) (but whatever, I make it work) (it works) (I work) (I write) with Philip Larkin, Mary Oliver, Anne Lamott and The Edge Foundation’s favourite maverick scientists* and then, for a while, abandoned them all for Sufi poets and philosophers. I sucked on the end of a fountain pen I was not using and threw chocolate wrappers at my computer screen, and called it work.

Intermittently, Sean brought me down food, coffee and chocolate.

He didn’t once ask—“Did you finish?”

Nor, “Did you start?”

IV.

Tomorrow is the day Stella’s mom looks after my children in the morning and afternoon and Baby M’s mom will look after Stella in the evening because that’s the way the web of a community works.

V.

Sunday is never a day of rest. But I stop moving, for a while. I have a bath in the dark, with Leonard Cohen.

Ender: Mom? Where are you? Mom? Come outside with me?

Jane: I’m in the bath. Not wearing any clothes. So, um… no.

Ender: Are you crying? Why are you crying?

Fact: You can’t listen to Leonard Cohen in the dark and not cry.

Fact: You can’t cry in front of your children FOR WHATEVER REASON and not freak them out.

Ender: Daaaaddddyyy! Mommy’s crying in the bathroom!

Sean: Um… Jane?

Jane: I’m fine. I’m listening to Leonard Cohen.

Sean: Wouldn’t you rather listen to some happier music?

Jane: No!

I turn on the lights, dry off, get dressed, and take Ender outside. I’m not done NOT moving yet. I lie on the brown, damp grass, soak up the sun.

VI.

Saturday was the day on which Flora slept over at Frederica’s house and Stella had a sleep-over with Ender, and we played Cards Against Humanity and laughed and when the night ended my lungs hurt and maybe, possibly I had broken a rib.

VII.

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. They blur and knock into each other and I try to find their rhythm and sometimes I do, but too often it eludes me. An email, phone call in the morning sabotages everything.

You: But you thrive on chaos, right?

Me: That story is running out of juice…

VIII.

Today or tomorrow or maybe yesterday, I will go for a walk with Rumi in my pocket and try to photograph the wind.

IX.

Cinder: What are we having for supper today?

Jane: Oh, fuck. Probably… food. What’s in the fridge?

Flora: Food. An assortment of food.

Jane: Good. Food. We’re having food for supper.

Flora: Some of it’s slimy.

Cinder: Don’t worry. If it’s gross, I’ll bake cookies after.

X.

Today’s the day everything happens, and tomorrow’s the day it all begins again. And I can’t quite remember what happened yesterday. Right. I wanted to brush Ender’s hair, and couldn’t find the hairbrush. But then did.

I have to go now. Leonard Cohen wants me to take another bath with him.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-days of the week

PS I now desire a Blue Raincoat.

*This Idea Must Die, edited by John Brockman (Harper Perennial 2015)

“Love is disgusting.” But you knew that already.

nbtb-love is disgusting

I.

How I know he’s mine:

Jane: Cinder? Could you take out the recycling when your game’s over?

Cinder: Is it urgent?

Jane: Well… it’s not urgent right now, but the cupboard’s stuffed full and barely closing, and so next time someone opens it, all the recycling will flow out, screaming, “Freedom! Freedom!” and make a mess on the floor and…

Cinder: So how about, as soon as I hear it screaming, I take it out?

Jane: Ok. Works for me.

Cinder: Just so we understand each other—you’ll scream “Freedom! Freedom!” if you’re the one who opens the cupboard?

Jane: Yes.

Cinder: But you won’t do it on purpose. Only if you actually have to try to stuff something else in there.

Jane: Yes.

Cinder: Ok. Works for me.

II.

How I know she’s mine:

Flora: I can’t believe this. I! Can’t! Believe! This! The only likeable character in the book, and they kill him off—and there’s like a third of the book to go! What the hell? Who does that? What’s wrong with this writer? I am never, ever, EVER reading anything by this jerk again!

Jane: Where are you going?

Flora: I’m going to rewrite this chapter the way it should have been written!

III.

I don’t know where the hell he came from:

Ender: I! Love! Boogers! I! Love! My! Boogers! I! Love! Your! Boogers! I! Love! Everyone’s! Boogers! Sooooooo! Muuuuuuuch!

IV.

How they know they’re mine (even though they’re not):

Flora: He’s so disgusting.

Jane: It could be worse. When Cinder was his age? He used to feed you his boogers.

Flora: Jeezus, Mom, seriously? And you let him? What’s wrong with you?

Cinder: She didn’t let me. I mostly did it when she wasn’t looking. And only if you were awake.

Flora: That’s supposed to make me feel better?

Cinder: Well, at least I never puked on you, Ms Lazy Esophagus!

Flora: I didn’t… Mom? Did I puke on Cinder?

Jane: Yes. Kind of incessantly. Don’t feel bad. It’s very common. And he peed in your ear. So, you know. It all balances out.

Flora: Children are really disgusting. Like, the most disgusting thing ever. And that’s not even counting the bloody birthing part.

Jane: Pretty much.

Flora: But you’re happy you had us?

Jane: There is no meaning or purpose to my life without you.

V.

I’ve read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights last week, and it almost killed me. Listen:

“When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.

… Once she was born I was never not afraid.”

“A question: if we and our children could in fact see the other clear would the fear go away? Would the fear go away for both of us, or would the fear go away only for me?”

““You have your wonderful memories,” people would say later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. … Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”

“I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted.

In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment.

In fact they serve only make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”

“I do not know many people who think they have succeeded as parents. Those who do tend to cite the markers that indicate (their own) status in the world: the Standford degree, the Harvard MBA, the summer with the white-shoed law firm. Those of us less inclined to compliment ourselves on our parenting skills, in other words, most of us, recite rosaries of our failures, our neglects, our derelictions and delinquencies.”

“I tell you this true story just to prove that I can.”

I am changed.

VI.

They are loved.

They know they are loved.

Ender: Mooom! Hug! Kiss!

Cinder: Don’t do it, Mom! He was eating boogers!

Ender: I was not! I was only pretending. I was feeding them to Maggie.

Flora: Well, at least it wasn’t me.

Ender: Next time, I will share… My! Boogers! With! Yooooooooouuuuuuu!

Cinder: That’s my little bro! High-five, man!

Flora: Groooooosss! Moooooom!

Love. Disgusting, innit? 😉

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Of course he took out the recycling. Of course.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: There is such a thing as loving nature too much, or, more proof that children are disgusting.

“Is it important? Yes? Then don’t text me.”

I’ve instituted a new rule in my house. You’re welcome to copy it. It might save your marriage. It is thus:

DO NOT TEXT ME ABOUT ANYTHING IMPORTANT.

This is my compromise on the rule that I initially proposed, which was the draconian:

DO NOT TEXT ME.

This is because—ready? Revolutionary!—we do not speak the same texting language. AT all

Example A:

I’m working out of the house. Ping.

Sean: We are out of milk.

My reaction: Why the fuck are you interrupting my work flow with this inanity? (I don’t text it. But I THINK it.)

What he meant:

“We’re out of milk; could you pick some up on your way home?”

My reaction to which would have been:

“K”

But instead I’m pissed, my flow disrupted, and I wonder why I didn’t turn off the phone?

Example B:

I am out in the wild with the children and I see something beautiful-ugly-heartbreaking and I take a photo and I send it. Ping.

Jane: [Image]. Heart-broken. Sobbing. Despair.

Sean: WTF? Are you ok? What happened?

What he wishes I had said:

“Look at this disturbing picture of [X] I took. Doesn’t it make you think of heart-break? Despair? It is so evocative!”

What I want him to say in response to what I actually said (didn’t say, implied, experienced, tried to convey with fragmented words):

“God. Baby. Beautiful. I love you.”

Example C:

Jane: 2 out of 3 of our children want to go swimming and I’m going to force the other child to cooperate. Should we wait until you get back home so we can go together?

Sean: Walking from Bridgeland to downtown. PS Forgot to take out the steaks to defrost.

Jane: Does not answer my question.

Sean: I also have to go print photos after.

Jane: You! Still! Have! Not! Answered! My! Question!

But he thinks he has…

Right? He’s said:

“Here are all the things I’m doing and have to do.”

But he hasn’t said, what I need to hear, which is:

“There is no way I will make it back in time, go without me.”

Or even, you know, I’ll accept this:

“I really don’t want to go swimming. Just go with the kids; I’ll see you at home later.”

Dedicated to that girl I love, so far away now. You know who you are. Who insisted I should get a cell phone. And ruined my life. ;P

(Not really. But. Don’t you sometimes wish you could go back? I do…)

nbtb-is it important don't text me

xoxo

“Jane”

…but research shows…

I.

The rather annoying thing about having me as a mother:

Flora: Mom? I made my bed yesterday.

Jane: And?

Flora: And what?

Jane: Is that the whole story? Did you find something, break something, think something, learn something?

Flora: No. That’s it. I made my bed.

Jane: That totally doesn’t work as story.

Flora: Does everything I tell you have to have a plot or a climax? And character development?

Jane: Yes.

What? I’m busy. And I like to be entertained.

II.

The kinda awesome thing about having me as a mother:

My 10 year-old can define plot or climax. And character development.

So can the five-year-old.

III.

The really annoying thing about having me as a mother:

Flora: Ok, let me do this again. Mom? I made my bed yesterday.

Jane: I’m waiting…

Flora: Did you know that studies show that people who make their beds are happier than people who don’t make their beds?

Jane: What studies?

Flora: You know. Studies.

Jane: Where did you hear about these studies?

Flora: You-tube?

Jane: Did you know that most people who say “studies show” or “research says” are just making shit up? Whenever someone says, “Studies show” without referencing the specific study, what they’re actually saying, “I read this article on the Internet once and I’m now passing it on to you as proven truth, assuming you’re just as lazy as I am and will not track this information to its source.”

Flora: Does everything I tell you have to be supported by evidence?

Jane: Yes. Except when we’re talking about unicorns. Where are you going?

Flora: I’m going to Google the fucking bed-making study.

Jane: Good.

IV.

The really awesome thing about having me as a mother is that I’m going to loom over her shoulder as she scrolls and tell her: “Not a real source. Not real science. This is a blog—this is a blog post, and that is not research. Yes, this looks like a journal article, but what does it say, right here? See? ‘Research shows…’ What research? Yeah, this one’s not worth anything either. Keep on going… OK, now that one’s better, but what institution is he professor at, exactly? Let’s check that out… ”

My kids are going to know that typing search terms into Google is not research.

Research shows that children whose parents take the time to explain this sort of thing to them make better researchers. ;P

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-research shows

PS My original headline was “Research shows people who make their beds in the morning don’t understand climax is necessary to good story” but apparently it had subtext.

 

Facts of Life

I.

Ender hatched from an egg. That’s how they tell the story, anyway.

Flora: It was the cutest egg ever. Orange, all orange. But I’d decorate it with purple squiggles and rainbows.

Cinder: …and we all took turns sitting on you. Like, when Mom had to go somewhere, or even take a shower, Flora or I had to sit on you. But sometimes, when she was out for a long time, instead of sitting on you, we’d just throw you back and forth like a ball. You’re so lucky we didn’t smash you.

Flora: Mom was so mad was she caught us doing that once…

They’ve told him the story so many times, they’ve even got these details down:

Flora: …and after you hatched, I tried to keep the egg shells for my museum, but Dad said it would be unhygienic and he threw them out.

Cinder: But I kept one. Want to see?

(and the mystery to why he was rooting through the garbage earlier for chicken egg shells, and through Flora’s room for an orange marker, is solved)

Flora: You were the cutest little baby.

Cinder: Well. The cutest little maggot. You were all white and squirmy. You didn’t really look human until you pupated. That happened when you were two.

(he might have crossed the line here. Yes. Yes he did?

Ender: Mooom! Did I pupate when I was two?

What would you say? What should I say?

Isn’t all life just a really long metamorphosis?

II.

This is 100% true: While Ender was in the womb, we called him Two-Horned Rainbow Merlin Stinky Socks Marsh.

So it’s all our fault, really.

III.

I’m in a café, working, and there’s a new proud father at the table next to me, showing off his progeny to co-workers. “She’s such a good baby,” he says.

What he means is “easy.” And “convenient.”

She’s four months old.

In three to six weeks, he and her mother will look at each other, and one will ask the other, “When do things get back to normal?”

Ha.

Normal.

What they mean is “the way they were before.”

What they don’t want to hear: Never.

IV.

Jane: Do! Not! Call! Your! Brother! A! Maggot!

Ender: Yeah! I’ve pupated!

Ha.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Facts of Life

 

“Smoking is all the rage, but it will kill you,” mixed messages, and boring people

I.

Flora: “I can’t stand bossy people. But boring people, they’re okay.”

Jane: “Really? How do you figure?”

Flora: “Well—bossy people, obviously—they always tell you what to do, and who likes that? But boring people don’t force you to do anything. I mean, yes, you have listen to them talk if they trap you in a room, but thanks to you, I know how to totally zone out and just think my own thoughts while they blather on.”

So… I’m not sure. Parenting win? Parenting fail?

Yes, I’m a little bit defensive. Yes, I must own this quality and technique: she learned it from me. My disassociation capabilities are legendary. It’s how I stay sane. (Not to mention, productive.)

Still, it’s not the sort of thing you put on your resume, right? Or a quality that endears you to… um, well, boring people. Because every once in a while, they stop and ask you a question—just to check if you’re listening to their boring story.

(BTW, darling… are you reading? I’m still writing here…)

And when you’re not…

Flora: “Fortunately, we don’t know that many boring people. Why is that, Mom?”

I think it’s because we live in this really awesome community in this really awesome neighbourhood in this really awesome creative-edge bubble and…

Flora: “I guess it’s probably because you’ve offended and alienated most of their parents. Good work, Mom!”

Parenting fail. Definitely, parenting fail.

Sarcastic little titch.

She gets that from me, too.

II.

I’m chasing happy. It’s right there—right there—just within reach—just two, three tasks away. 500 words away. A load of laundry away.

Ah, screw it. I jump. Grasp it with both hands… hold on to it for 30 seconds. An hour. Yes.

Let go. Put in the laundry. Write the words. Do all the things.

Happy.

III.

I’m writing so many things right now, in so many different voices, sometimes, the different voices start to shout at each other in my head.

Jane: “Shut! Up!”

Cinder: “Mom, please treat your computer with respect. And speak in an inside voice.”

Sarcastic little titch.

I don’t think he gets that from me. Oh wait. Yes, he does.

VI.

NBTB-Smoking is all the rage

Flora: “Mom! Take a picture! The caption is: ‘Smoking is all the rage,but it will kill you!’”

Parenting fail? Mixed messages. Mixed messages…

V.

Flora: “Sometimes, I wish my life wasn’t so easy and so ordinary.”

Jane: “Really? Sometimes, I wish my life was…”

…so I was going to say, boring. More ordinary. But… really? No. I’d be lying. I was, truly, wishing for boring in the summer, fall of 2013.

But, I’m done.

Jane: “I accept the consequences of needing to live an interesting life.”

Flora: “What did you say?”

Jane: “Nothing. Why do you think your life is so easy and ordinary?”

Flora: “Because I don’t suffer. At all.”

Jane: “I can probably change that. I mean, if that’s what you really want.”

Flora: “Um… on second thought… I’m so glad I have an easy and good life.”

Parenting win.

xoxo

“Jane”

Because, life.

NBTB-because life

I.

In the category of things I’d never thought I’d hear:

Ender: And Mom is driving AND eating bacon! That’s just wrong. And dangerous. Aren’t you going to stop her, Daddy?

II.

In the category of things I’d never thought I’d say:

Jane: Do! Not! Use! Your! Butt! As! A! Bookmark!

III.

In the category of things I hope other people don’t hear them say:

Cinder: Mom! Construction workers in the middle of the street! Go to ramming speed! Mom? Come on? Please? You can swerve to the side at the last second…

IV.

In the category of “This my life”:

Client: What we’re really looking for… See, how can I put this… Have you any experience… have you ever dealt with someone completely, totally irrational, unreasonable and prone to throwing temper tantrums at the least provocation—and you had to deal with them, and work around them, and get the job done in spite of them, because firing isn’t an option, and killing them is wrong?”

Jane: Yes. Yes, I have some experience in working with people like that.

V.

I’m in the shower and I’m writing bad poetry in my head and life is really, really good.

That’s all. There’s no punchline. Maybe this: and nobody interrupted me.

Bliss.

xoxo,

Jane

PS Eating bacon while driving is NOT dangerous. Eating salted caramel ice cream, however, is.