The price of flow

I.

JaneAusten6

You: “So, no post last week, eh Jane? Slacking off?”

Jane: “Twenty-five thousand words in five days, baby, and a first-final draft of a third novel finished. What did you do? Play Pokemon Go?”

I’m totally bragging.

I’ve never, ever had flow like that before.

But, in case envy is devouring you right now, let me assure you: the post-output bliss lasts exactly 24 minutes, and I’m currently convinced that if it came that easily and that quickly, it must be shit.

II.

Assignment: Fingers on keyboard—I won’t make you write this by hand—fingers on keyboard, ready? And… “Why I no longer take selfies” or “In praise of the selfie phenomenon.” 25 minutes.

Don’t stop. 25 minutes. Fingers dancing.

Now—stop.

You should have 500 words.

Now cut it down to 250…

Stop whining.

The final piece is going to 150, including your headline.

You’re welcome.

NBTB-Exhausted Blogger

III.

A first-final draft, by the way, is the first draft that you think is a final draft (in reality it’s the fourth, fifth, seventh), until you start to show it to people and…

Him: “So… Chapter 17… have you considered that it should actually be Chapter 3? And, um, half its current size?”

Her: “Actually, a paragraph. Maybe even just two sentences. It fleshes out a character that only exists to illustrate… Get rid of her, and, instead…”

Jane: “You don’t understand my vision at all. You’re stupid. Fat. And those shoes are UGLY.”

Ah, fuck. That was supposed to be just communicated to you through the squinting of my eyes. It wasn’t supposed to come out of my mouth.

Sorry. Are we still friends?

IV.

The children subsist on stale bread softened with margarine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, except for the days when Cinder breaks down and makes everyone hot dogs.

When he does, our industrial-size container of mustard leaps out of the fridge and tries to kill him.

He swears. A good mother would ask him if he needs help cleaning up the mess.

Jane: “I’m writing. See if the dog will eat some of it?”

He cleans up the best he can. Puts the mustard back in. Reaches in for the ketchup.

Cinder: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”

Jane: “Again?”

Cinder: “This time, it was more of a suicide attempt than homicide.”

We clean up the mess together. Look at the offending container.

Jane: “When that thing is empty, I am never, ever, ever buying mustard again.”

Cinder: “We could just throw it out now.”

Flora: “No! I love mustard.”

So. We suffer.

Because we love her.

That be life…

V.

Sean goes to Costco—home of the industrial size mustard—on Saturday, after he sees Ender spreading mustard on a stale tortilla.

Ender: “There’s nothing else to eat!”

Sean: “Oh, come on. There’s also…”

A pickle.

Ender eats it.

Sean goes to Costco. Comes back with all the things. Also, an industrial size bag of sugar.

It’s a sweet, sweet gesture—because Flora’s in baking camp right now, and she’s planning to make her entire family fat and diabetic before the end of the summer.

It’s too big to fit into any of our cupboards.

Jane: “Where should we put this?”

Sean: “Um…”

It’s currently the centerpiece of our kitchen table.

I think—I’m not sure—Sean and I are engaged in a Cold War of apathy to see who will break down first and take it down to the basement… as an offering to the mice or ants.

VI.

I’m thinking about selfies today, I think, because the lines around my eyes, lips seem more pronounced—it’s the sleep deprivation—but also beautiful—that’s the post-output elation—and also, about how you told me you don’t think you’re beautiful, and this just blows my mind, how is this possible, have you never looked in a mirror?

You: “When I look in the mirror, I don’t see what you see.”

Jane: “Then look in my eyes instead.”

VII.

Flora makes cupcakes. Macaroons. Banana bread. Cinder bakes chocolate chip cookies. Sean roasts two chickens.

Me, I cut two thousand words, and write seven hundred for money. In my sleep.

NBTB-Meditation for writers

VIII.

Cinder takes a steak knife and pokes a hole in the industrial size bag of sugar.

Jane: “Why. The. Fuck. Did. You. Do. That?”

Cinder: “I think… I think this is one of those times when the answer is obvious, Mom.”

Jane: “Because it was there?”

Cinder: “And it’s been there for a really long time. We really should put it in the pantry.”

Jane: “Mice. Ants.”

He finds an industrial size plastic ice cream bucket and brings it up to the kitchen.

I transfer the sugar into it.

He borrows a Sharpie from Flora. Labels the top of the container:

Cinder’s Crystal Meth.

Flora: “Nice. Let’s make sure that’s out when people come to visit.”

IX.

What needs to happen next is I need to not think about words, in words for a few days. At least hours.

This is achievable.

Right?

Right.

Wrong.

I don’t know.

Help.

nbtb-sleeping while i work

X.

Flora brings macaroons from baking camp.

Oh, yes.

Jane: “Like something is telling me ‘I love you’ inside my mouth.”

Flora: “That good?”

Jane: “That good.”

The best part: Cinder doesn’t like them, and Sean and Ender are allergic.

Mine! All mine!

XI.

I guess I could clean house. It’s filthier than…

…but I can’t rouse myself to do so. I text you instead.

Jane: “Coffee?”

You: “Champagne?”

Cinder: “Mom! The fucking mustard fell out of the fridge again!”

Life.

 

xoxo,

“Jane”

PS.

You: “That made very little sense.”

Jane: “Twenty five thousand words that made sense in five days. I. Am. Fried.”

PS2 Don’t forget your assignment. Selfies. Love them? Hate them? Tell me.

 

NBTB-BlankPage Blank

PS3 Looking for POSTCARDS FROM CUBA? Go here & think about clicking here:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

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)

February Spring

I’m stumbling home in a February spring, coat open, gloves off, a warm wind winding in and out and around me. I am half-happy, half-mad, all-exhausted. Each step takes effort, is so slow—I want to want to run—but I can’t—I can barely walk—one foot in front of the other, and suddenly, dizzy, I stop…

I’m tired. I’m so-to-the-bone tired, an exhaustion I’d tell you I can’t describe except it would be a lie, because that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m so tired, I can barely walk, I can barely think.

I’m stumbling home…

I’ve spent the morning writing and juggling. First, loving the morning-loving-Ender, negotiating with him my need to write Morning Pages as soon as I wake up no-matter-what-no-I’m-not-going-to-build-Kapla-or-make-you-an-omelet-here-eat-an-orange-when-I-am-done-I-will-make-you-eggs-what?-yes-I-can-get-you-cold-spaghetti-from-last-night-but-you’ve-got-to-let-me-write…

Then, walking, so very quickly, to a café—I cannot work at home today, it is oppressing me, squeezing me, reprimanding me with all the things it wants from me and I hate it, I need to run away, will-you-watch-the-children-thank-you-I-promise-I-will-come-back.

Coffee. “Dark? Medium? What size?” “Surprise me. I have no superfluous decisions left in me today.” And it’s only 9 a.m….

(She gets me a large latte; I feel bad I don’t have money for a tip.)

You come to visit me for a while, and we talk about EVERYTHING, and this time, neither of us cries, and we laugh about it. You’re my fix of… what? Something undefined, but needed. I appreciate it. An injection of energy that gets me moving, and after you leave, I write.

I’m writing about a woman who’s going to change the world. As I write, I believe it. I love her, I envy her. When I finish, I despair. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to let her. They’re going to destroy her.

(Can I stop them?)

I have more to write. Difficult things, technical things, uncreative things, necessary things.

I’m suddenly tired, uninspired and I don’t want to.

A text. “Can you be home by… I need to…” “OK. I’m done writing anyway.”

In a minute, in a second, in a moment of time shorter than that, this happens: I switch from writing-producing-thinking-happy to… fallow-done-exhausted-barely-alive. The fog envelops me and deepens as I walk towards home. With each step, I get heavier. Slower. More stupid. So tired. Where does this exhaustion come from?

I stumble home, into the house, crawl up the stairs—I have a window of perhaps 20 minutes before kids—I fall into bed. Eyes closed. So-exhausted. What do people who cannot nap do?

I don’t know if I sleep. I simply don’t move.

Ping.

“Dropping kids off at the top of the hill, can you meet them?” “On my way.”

I am still tired. Stupid. I think, the thing I wrote this morning? Worthless. The things I still have to write? Pointless. When will I do it? How? Despair.

I stumble out of the house. One foot in front of the other. February spring, wind.

Oh.

I inhale.

An idea…

One foot in front of the other up the hill I see three little bodies, arms waving, legs and arms pumping, oh-the-energy, infect me!

We walk home together. I am still tired. But I am not stumbling. I am not stumbling.

There is food on the stove (I text: “Thank you, my love”). I do some things. A request: “Sit beside me, Mom.” I do. I open the lap top. Caress the keys. Maybe what I wrote this morning wasn’t so bad.

Maybe what I write next isn’t pointless.

“Hey, Mom, do you want me to make you some green tea? You look like a zombie.”

I am, just a little, tired.

But no longer so-to-the-bone tired I can’t walk-or-think.

Still. I am looking forward to bedtime. Immensely.

nbtb-Feb Spring

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. You really liked this post: Dear un-Valentine: the way you talk to your partner tells me more about you than the way you kiss. Thanks!

Solitude and the creative mother

NBTB-Inside My Head

(That, btw, is a brilliant title for a book, and one of you should write it. Me? No, I’ve got another passion I’m chasing right now. Go on, it’s a gift. Just dedicate it to me, and we’ll be square.)

I.

I’m careening down Bow Trail, engaged in a complicated kid-care-drop-off (morning at a friend’s while I work; afternoon at my mom’s while I run errands). Transitions suck, and the kinder are unimpressed.

“Why can’t I go to the stores with you?” Flora whines. “You’re going to all my favourite places.” True. I’m hitting a book store (books!), and London Drugs (shiny things!), and Winners (more shiny things!). And Flora could, theoretically, go with me. She’s near-10. She won’t “slow” me down with a tantrum, a toilet-training regression, a refusal to leave the toy aisle. I can accomplish everything I need to with her in tow in about the same amount of time… And she’s smart enough to know this. She knows why I don’t want to take Ender. But surely—she could go?

No.

“Why not?” she whines-pleads.

And I sigh, and I look at her, and decide this is not a moment for evasion.

“Because, beloved, we are about to go on a family vacation, and this is my last chance to be alone for 12 days, and if I don’t take it, I will go insane. I might go insane anyway.”

She looks at me with giant, giant eyes. And ponders.

I worry I’ve hurt her, because, in this culture, when you say “I want to be alone,” most people (husbands, friends, lovers) hear “I don’t want to be with you”—and what will a child hear? But this is a very special child. This is a child who also needs to be alone, a lot. And she’s lucky enough to have a mother who has that same need and recognizes it… and goes to considerable lengths to ensure that, in a family of five crammed into a <1000 square foot house, Flora gets as much solitude as she needs.

I will do this for her during the holiday too, and for her brother. Of my three children, two need swaths of time away from other humans—including each other. The third, alas, does not. So—I take him, away from them. They get what they need. Me? No matter how self-aware I try to be, my solitude is the first thing I give up.

But. I have a Flora.

“Oh, Mom,” she sighs. “Listen. Every day, when we’re on the beach, and then we decide it’s time to go to the pool—you just stay on the beach for 15, 20 minutes. An hour, maybe, even? By yourself. OK? And then come join us.”

Oh, my love. My little insightful fairy.

(Is it enough, 15, 20 minutes? No. Not even close. But it’s better than zero minutes, right?)

II.

I need to be alone to think. To be able to think, really think, I need to NOT pay attention to the needs, the very existence of others. I need to be alone for drafts to drift into their proper form in my head. For things to settle. Not for long. Not for months or weeks—I’d get lonely, so lonely. But, you know. A couple of hours? A day, here or there? A 5-minute runaway, a 15-minute moment to be separate. An evening, a night.

A weekend.

And when I don’t get it, yes, I go a little mad.

Sometimes, I confuse this need with the need for adult company: I think I’m feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by little people, and that I need the company and stimulation of big people. And I call you, and we go out, and I stare at you resentfully. I love you, but you’re not what I need right now. Right now, I need to walk the beach, the hill, the riverbank all by myself. I have a thought to think, an idea to chase, tumult to experience. Demons to taunt.

When I fill my “alone” quota sufficiently… then I love and need and want people.

When it’s wrested away from me, when I don’t get it? I hate you all.

Sorry.

III.

As Ender, who has spent part of the night squished up against me, entwined, whispering stories into my ear, begins the day in my lap, squished up against me, entwined, whispering stories into my ear, I suddenly have a blinding flash of insight as to why he’s been so much more challenging for me to parent. You’d think, really, the third—you’d have it down, right? You’d have enough tips and tricks, strategies and distractions, to dial it in at least some of the time? I mean, sure, every kid is different, but there’s enough “the same” that the third time around should not be the most difficult…

I have thought, often, that it’s me. I am different now: he has had the bad fortune to still be small-and-demanding at a time when I am demanding-of-and-for-myself, and so his need for me to be his 24/7 and my need to be me and write and do all the things I really NEED to do clash more than Cinder and Flora’s needs ever clashed with mine.

Some of that is true. I need more now. But also, this child, this third child of mine? He’s the first one of my threesome who doesn’t need great swaths of solitude. He needs people. A person. He needs an audience, a companion. His alone fixes are very short—and he needs to check in with others while he engages in them. As a result: he never gives me respite. He never gives me enough time alone… that I recharge sufficiently that I want to be with him, focused, happy, unresentful.

I stare at him and at myself in shock as I realize this. Because no wonder neither one of us ever feels we’re getting enough! He never gets enough mom. I never get enough solitude. With his siblings, breaks and respite occurred pretty naturally. They’d become immersed in their thing… I could float away, be alone while nominally present with them. Ender does not let me do this, ever. He grabs my hand, my face. Forces my attention into him…

IV.

The solution, of course, is obvious. It’s not that he needs ME. He needs people while I need solitude. And so, yes. I “outsource” this child more than I did/do the others. But I also need to work with him, to teach him something that his siblings just learned and shared with me intuitively.

I need to teach him that “I want to be alone” does not mean “I don’t want to be with you.” It doesn’t mean, “I don’t love you, I don’t want you.”

It just means… “I want to be alone. I need to be alone. I need to be just with me, right now. And then, when I have enough of that, I will come be with you.”

It’ll happen. (And what a gift to his future friends and lovers that will be, if he learns that now…)

I get to do my morning #meditationforwriters unmolested most mornings now. In fact, the other day, that’s how he got me out of bed at 5 a.m.

“Mom! It’s time to do your morning pages!”

Kee-rist. Be careful what you ask for.

xoxo

“Jane”

Leading, earning, building, breeding: vignettes from the trenches

Today, I’m speaking at the Government of Alberta’s Women in Leadership conference. The first ever.

I’ll give you a minute to ponder that “first ever,” in the context of the Year of Our Lord 2014… OK, moving on:

I’m speaking as part of the Systemic Barriers to Leadership Panel, and one of the questions that I’ll be tackling is this:

Why do women have limited access to the right development opportunities that provide leaders with the experience and visibility to advance?

The answer is so very, very simple. And it’s not that our bosses are sexist assholes. I’ll give you the long version in a couple of weeks; now, I’ve got to pack and run. The interim, short-form answer is this:

As I’m prepping to leave my house for the three-hour drive to the conference, this is going on in the background:

And also, this:

photo (26)

My time at this conference–which is helping develop my career and providing me with the experience and visibility to advance–is time away from them.

And it’s also time away from both my paid work and my dream work:

NBTB-Methadone Dec 30

…for which there isn’t always enough time as it is.

So. What do I do?

Today, I’m going to speak at this conference.

(Spoiler alert if you want to save revelation for the long version) I would not have been able to take advantage of this opportunity ten years ago. Or even five years ago.

OK. I’m gonna be late. Gotta go. I leave you with this:

And, a pointer to these:

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. For a peek at why I’m really stoked to be part of this conference, check out Women in Leadership: Opportunities lost. And not because our bosses are misogynist prices on CalgaryBusinessWriter.com.

Episode 356, in which everyone swears, metaphors are tortured, and a bad story gets filed

subtitled, why my children swear… and why I’m not going to stop…

I.

Ender: Mom? You know what the difference between you and me is? You swear at people. I just swear for fun.

Go ahead. No, please, go ahead, indulge the judge within. There are so many things WRONG with that statement, I don’t even know where to start.

It’s only partially true.

I don’t really swear AT people. More at the THINGS they do.

More often yet: at my self. My brain. The things it refuses to do when I really need it to perform…

Still. I hereby resolve to swear less. In front of the sponge-like four-year-old, anyway.

II.

I have this deeply insightful point to make and I’m just trying to find the right way to lead up to it, and then…

Flora: Mom? Do we have any of that delicious bean mush left?

Jane: What? That? Yeah?

Flora: Can I have that for breakfast?

Yes, of course, but I have to help her heat it up—because it’s been left overnight in the pan and so requires some, um, resuscitation shall we say—and then, ok, a tortilla or two to go with it, and then by the time I come back to the laptop, I can’t remember where I was going, what I was thinking…

Yeah, gone. Forever. Here. Read this instead:

III.

Jane: Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, why is this piece so fucking bad? It’s easy. It’s simple. A goddamn chimpanzee at a typewriter could write it, so why… Jeezus—Keerist, why. Am. I. So. Fucking. Brain. Dead. Today? … hey, Cinder? I’m going to walk over to Vendome to get a coffee with whipped cream in it and clear my head, wanna come with?

Cinder: That depends. Are you going to talk to yourself and make weird hand gestures and roll your eyes and stop suddenly and shout, “YES!” or “Fuck, no, that won’t work,” because you’re stuck on that story?

Jane: Um… maybe…

Cinder: Then no. But can you bring back some of that good focaccia bread? And don’t eat it all on the way home!

OK, this stopping swearing in front of my children thing probably isn’t going to happen.

And also: seriously, a goddamn chimpanzee with a typewriter could have written it better than I had in that first draft form. Your writing tip for the day, boys and girls: an amateur despairs and gives up. A professional despairs, goes for a walk, downs a triple mocha, and redrafts.

IV.

The thing is, though, I’m feeling kind of lonely and really do want company.

Jane: Flora? Wanna go to Vendome with me?

Flora: Are you going to talk to me as we walk, or ignore me and just mumble to yourself and do that creepy thing with your eyes?

Jane: Um. I don’t know. Maybe?

Flora: Can I make a video of you and put it on Youtube?

Jane: No!

Flora: Can I make a video of you and show it to all my friends?

Jane: Why do you hate me?

Flora: We don’t hate you, Mom. We just like to mock you.

Awesome. I go for my walk alone.

IV.

I redraft. It still sucks. Woe is I. Or rather, woe is my editor, who will have to fix it.

Point: “Filed.” I’ve told you before, have I not? An amateur thinks it has to be good. A professional knows it just has to be done.

V.

This is the moment where I try to adapt the good/done, amateur/professional metaphor to parenting. It’s rather torturous, but it goes like this. The amateur/theoretical parent—i.e., your childless friend who is so full of theory and advice and knows exactly how he will raise his kids or even any first-time, first-year mom at that stage of the journey (do you remember that stage? I find it’s fading for me, too fast, thank goodness I write so I have proof of how insufferably arrogant and “right” I was)—thinks it has to be perfect. That it can be perfect. The professional parent—that is, anyone who’s done it in the real world for more than a year—knows it just has to… be. It just… is.

It gets done, every day.

Right?

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Everyone Swears

I’m raising a blackmailer. Oops

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

***

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

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

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

Jane: About $50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane: Because I haven’t been paid yet.

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

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

Flora is outraged.

Flora: Well, that really sucks!

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

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

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

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

Jane: Um, yeah?

Cinder: Have they paid you yet?

Jane: Um, no.

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

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

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

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

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

Cinder: But she’d get paid.

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

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

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

And, here it comes.

Ender: Mom?

Jane: Yes, my darling?

Ender: Penis!

The four-year-old has spoken.

xoxo

“Jane”

Raising a blackmailer

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

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

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

How my four-year-old receptionist defies the uterus-less CEO… and why that’s going to change the world

The landline rings, but I don’t care. There was a time when I would leap out of the shower and race to the telephone naked, but these days, only telemarketers and wanna-be-politicians ever call on it. I’m in the kitchen (fully clothed) doing battle with the sink and a frozen chicken, and pondering whether I should say yes or no to a new project—and whether my tepid disinclination to say yes is rational and should perhaps be off-set by the disturbing state of the family bank account—and…

“Mom! Are you going to get the telephone?”

“No!”

My elder two children are ignoring it too: they were reared in the pre-cell phone era when clients and editors called me on the landline, and answering the phone in the wrong way brought the Wrath of Psychotic-Bitch-Mom. The four-year-old lacks the training and the trauma. The phone is beguiling him. Plus, the ringtone is annoying.

“Mom! Please! Can I get it?”

Oh, why not? It’s probably a telemarketer, and it’s good practice for them to experience a four-year-old, isn’t it? I turn my head from the chicken for a minute, holler:

“OK!”

So… back to the inside of my head… will I say yes? Will I say no? I think I will say no, I’m pretty sure—I really don’t want to do it, and the part of it that’s intriguing isn’t sufficiently intriguing to make up for the part of it that a lobotomized chimpanzee could do, but, on the other hand, we need to eat. And go on exotic vacations…

From the other room, I hear,

“Hello?”

…and then…

“That is not how you say my mom’s name. Are you sure you know her?”

(There are so many, many different ways of mispronouncing “Jane.”)

“I’m Ender.”

“I’m not in school, ever! I’m four.”

“Mom! This guy really wants to talk to you!”

“Ma-baby—I’m busy killing a chicken. Hang up or tell him to call back.”

“My mom is killing a chicken. Well, not really. It’s already dead. But frozen. Also, I don’t think she finished her second cup of coffee this morning. And the dog peed in the basement, and I spilled cereal all over the couch, and the plumber hasn’t come so there’s no sink in the bathroom and she won’t play cars with me. She’s a big grouch, actually. Are you sure you really want to talk to her?”

“Mom? He says to tell you his name is… and it’s important.”

Oh, fuck.

Editor.

New editor.

Who has clearly not inherited the rolodex sticky-note that said “Do not call at home; communicate by email; in emergencies, email or text to schedule a time for a phone call.” (Digression: do people have rolodexes anymore? And do those of you under-28 know what that exotic word means?)

Goddammit.I wipe my icky hands on my clothes, and make my way to the phone…

“Hello, Jane here. … Hi. … So I’m not sure that I’ve had a chance to tell you this—but never, ever spontaneously call me at home. Now… give me five minutes to anaesthetize the children, and I’ll call you back on my cell from a locked, padded room…”

My real self has this column out right now, officially titled “Changing the status quo in the Canadian workplace”—more poetically self-titled “The CEO has a uterus—wait, the problem is that he doesn’t but half of his workforce does.” Here’s its key theme:

This is a story about why I don’t work for you.

Don’t roll your eyes. You should care, because I’m brilliant. …And it’s not just me. See her, over there? She’s even smarter than I am: she can see connections in trends, economic forecasts and people’s spending patterns that would make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice if you deployed her talents on the behalf of your corporation. And that one over there? You know that hole in your talent pipeline you’re looking to fill? She’d be perfect for it. …

We all left, because—hey, here’s something you’re not gonna hear a woman tell you very often, pay attention, darling—we all left because—eyes lower, lower, love, away from my face, lower, keep on going down… see this? We’ve all got this thing there called a uterus. Your wife’s got one, your daughter too. Your mother—that’s how you came to be, you know that, right? We’ve got these things, and that’s where new people incubate. And after they’re born, well, we’re kind of attached to them.

And even if we weren’t—the survival of the whole entire species depends on us, you know, taking care of them. Feeding them. Taking days off work when they’re sick or in high need… What? Nannies, day care? Not enough, dude, not enough—and you don’t get it, because, let me be politically incorrect here and blunt, you don’t get it, because you have a penis and a wife.

(Full unedited text of the Strategy Session, Alberta Venture column here)

It’s garnering fascinating responses from readers, varying from “Yes! Thank you for articulating this!” from many women readers-leaders to the ever-so-insightful “I wouldn’t have hired you anyway, bitch” from an alleged oil patch exec.* I end it with a call to arms—asking you to change the dominant culture of most workplaces by… well, by changing it. By acting like it’s already changed. Not by seeking accommodation—but by taking what you need. Whatever that means in your family-life reality.

And—and this, perhaps is even more important—by supporting those of your colleagues who are taking what they need. Not trying to pull them down to suffering through the unworkable status quo—just because you suffered through it. Just because you… weren’t able… didn’t have the courage… or weren’t sufficiently secure-privileged-arrogant-stubborn—I know I am all those things—to demand the change you needed.

A tentative knocking on my closed door. A whisper.

“Mom?”

Louder.

“Moooom? Are you done on the phone?”

“Yes, my baby. What do you need?”

“I just need you.”**

I let him in. Wrestle him on the bed for a while. Ponder if I’m going to say yes or no… where does the money-challenge-time-fulfillment-life matrix tell me to go right now? Remember there’s a raw chicken carcass waiting for me in the kitchen, and a client-of-a-client who needs some handholding. And, of course, the project that I really want and need to focus on that always get the short-shift… Skooch the four-year-old receptionist off the bed. Bribe his siblings to look after him.

And then—go do all the things that need to be done. My way.***

xoxo
“Jane”

Four-year-old receptionist.jpg

She likes footnotes:

* I generally don’t engage. I did that time. “You couldn’t afford my left foot, asswipe.”

** They need us so much, don’t they? Lest you think I advocate motherhood-martyrhood, please also read this: On the delicate art of running away… and always coming back.

*** It’s not supposed to be like that. The real secret to working at home with children is to get the children—or yourself—out of the house. More here: The naked truth about working from home, the real post. For more of my children’s encounters with clients and sources on the landline, see The naked truth about working from home, the teaser.

Next week… a surprise.

Looking for me?  Find “Jane”

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

I.

So it goes like this:

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

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

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

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

Cinder: Flora knows how to do laundry?

Jane: She ran out of underwear on Sunday.

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

Awesome Dryerase Board
II.

And then it goes like this:

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

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

Flora: No, come look.

Jane: Sweetie, I really need to finish…

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

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

Flora: I think it’s a slime mold.

Jane: Is that moving?

Cinder: Sometimes, slime molds move.

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

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

How you know we’re all a little whack:

Cinder: Should we take a picture?

Flora: Can I keep it for my museum?

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

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

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

How they know they’re the children of a writer

Math Medley

I.

How you know she’s my daughter:

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

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

True.

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

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

Um. So. I need to ask…

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

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

Of course.

II.

How you know he’s my son:

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome.

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

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

xoxo

“Jane”

“Want to see how my mom writes?”

Ruined papers 3

I’m standing at the kitchen sink working my way through the dishes. Forks, knives, spoons—Kee-rist, how many spoons? For what? When was the last time I made soup or bought ice cream? What the hell are they eating with the spoons? I pick one up and look at it hyper-critically. Peanut butter? No… chocolate syrup? Chocolate syrup!?!*

And the sunlight manages to come in through the greasy kitchen window and reflects off the surface of the spoon, and there’s a very pretty pattern, and suddenly I start to think about the Strategy Session I have to write for tomorrow, and the interviews play back in my head as I play with quotes and structure and look for the perfect opening sentence and…

CRASH!

The cast iron pan gets dislodged from the mountain of dishes and makes another crater in the soft wood floor.

I’m still swearing when I hear the pitter-patter of footsteps up the stairs. Flora and her friend Moxie poke their heads into the kitchen; then pitter-patter into the living room. I hear whispering, giggling. Turn my attention back to the sink. Attack the cast iron pan with a stainless steel scrub pad. Back and forth, back and forth—and I start to think… the quarter’s almost over, and I will have to weave a story for a client on what the capital markets have done this quarter, I have a conference call on that very topic scheduled for the day after, actually, and what have they done? Back and forth I scrub, and I think about this deal and that, and I see an idea, a thread… will that work? I chase it, follow it… it dead-ends, no, fallacious, weak. What about… another dead-end… but maybe…

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Giggle.

“Want to see something weird?” I hear Flora whisper. And I smile. Our house is full of weird, and I wonder what she will want to show her friend. The pronghorn antelope skull wrapped in wire she found on our last beach outing? The snakeskin she found in Whiteshell? Maybe one of Cinder’s disgusting science experiments? Sean’s dead cat?**

I rinse. Make new suds. Stare at them as they grow and pop. Actually, the thing about the capital markets this quarter—oh, yes. I grab a plate and scrub it. Stop. Yeah, that will work. And I lose interest, immediately, the problem is solved and it will just play in the back of my head and refine itself for a while, and meanwhile, I go back to the Strategy Session, which can’t open the way I was going to open it, because… and oh, actually, now, THAT’s a great idea for a post for Nothing By The Book, and—oh, fuck, yes, that is exactly how I’m going to frame that pitch, yes, why didn’t I think of that before, and I stop, and the dish rag goes flying and I spin around and stare, glass-eyed, at Flora and Moxie.

Giggle, giggle, giggle.

Flora’s holding a piece of paper and a marker and offers them to me. I grab them with my wet hands and lunge for the table. Water drips as I write down the bullet points, one, two, three, quick, quick, before they disappear, before Ender needs something, before anyone says anything, before life distracts me—there’s stuff that will stay in my head forever, ever, ever, and then there are those sentences, phrases, moments of perfection, insight, that come only once, and you have to get them down NOW or they will be gone, all that will remain is a memory, ever-fainter, and I will only find pale, unsatisfying imitations that mock me, remind me of the way it was supposed to be, but fail, utterly fail…

And—done. The marker stops. My hands smear the writing, they’re wet. I blow on the paper.
Legible enough. And now it doesn’t even matter: I wrote it down, I turned the idea into an artifact and activity, and now I will remember. Not all of it—but that perfect phrase, the punchline around which I’ll build the rest of the pitch, and it will work, oh, it already works. I smile. Sigh with toe-curling satisfaction. Go back to the sink. Grab another plate.

Giggle, giggle.

I turn my head. Moxie is laughing behind her hand, and Flora’s bent over her ear.

“And that’s how my mom writes,” she says.
“Weird, hey?”

xoxo

“Jane”

Three beautiful things from the Interwebs ya’ might want to read:

1. Apparently, Dutch kids are the happiest kids in the world. Want to know why? Check out this piece on Finding Dutchland

2. Most insightful thing about the meaning of three (years old that is) I’ve read in a long time: I help you Mummy on Secrets of the Sandpit

3. Eight of my favourite bloggers collaborated on this fun post on What we didn’t expect when we were expecting. Read. Laugh. Commiserate. If you’re expecting, be mildly terrified… 

…wait, one more: if you don’t follow my Undogmatic Unschoolers blog (and there’s no reason you should, unless you’re an unschooling family too, in which case, why not? Get your clicking fingers over there now!), last week’s “I could never do what you do!” post is a) very short and b) has some really fun photographs from the chaos that is life with Cinder, Flora and Ender, if you want a peek.

* They don’t eat cereal. Good guess, though.

** Dead cat. It’s a technical term for a piece of absolutely valid and non-gross filming equipment. Honest. Google it.

Photo: That’s one of my manuscripts, not ruined by kitchen dishwater, but a victim of the flood. And unsalvageable. I think it was a short story I wrote when I was in a Korea. Possibly a short-story-love-letter-fusion. Or a page of a journal. Yeah, it still hurts. Yeah, I still mourn.

It’ll be ok. I’m making more…

##

And the fabric of the universe does not come apart…

Toilet paper Español: Papel higiénico

Ender: I don’t want you to wash my bum ever again!

Jane: Jesus, Ender, you have no idea how much I want to never have to wash your bum ever again. Ever. And you know when that will happen? When you start pooping in the freakin’ toilet!

Cinder: Don’t believe her, Ender! She’s obsessed with cleaning your bum, and even after you’re totally toilet trained, she’ll be putting you under the shower until you’re four or five because she does not believe in toilet paper.

Jane: What the… First all, you can’t not believe in toilet paper. Look–toilet paper. Right here. You can’t not, pardon me for using a double negative, believe in it. You can believe in not using toilet paper. Which, incidentally, I don’t not believe in–we buy and go through so much toilet paper–but you try cleaning THIS with toilet paper, you little…

Cinder: Mom? While you were doing your toilet paper rant, Ender took off. I bet he’s plopping his poopy bum down on the couch right now…

It’s one of those moments, right, when you ponder–what to do, throw something heavy at the smart-ass 10 year-old and then chase after the poopy three-year-old or… but before you have time to process, because this is my life, the telephone rings. And it’s the CEO-VP-GC-analyst-insert-your-favourite-acronym-or-title here I’ve been stalking all week and need to talk to right now. And the phone is on a different floor, of course, and I’m up to my elbows in toddler feces…

If I’m lucky, my Flora will get to the phone and say,

“I’m sorry, she can’t come to the phone right now, can I take a message?”

But if this day continues to unfold as it has, Cinder will get to the phone first, and, the mood he’s in, will say,

“Sorry, she’s up to her elbows in shit. And in a piss-bad mood, so I don’t know if you want to call back. And she’s been calling you a rat-fuck bastard all week because you haven’t called her back yet.”

See, but although the universe has a wicked sense of humour, it also sometimes knows that at this particular point in time the last straw will really be the last straw, and if it throws you one more curve ball, you–and when I say you, I mean me–will tear its very fabric into pieces and bring about the end of life as we know it–and so, although it is Cinder who gets to the telephone, what he says is,

“Yes, she’s been waiting for you to call–hold on just a minute, she’ll be right here!”

Followed, granted, by,

“Mom! It’s that guy who hasn’t called you back all week!”

but he doesn’t call the guy a rat-fuck bastard, and that makes him golden, and I get to the phone, and I get the interview that will make me meet deadline and be golden with the editor. And then, I clean the poopy bum. And the poopy couch. And then, after kissing Cinder on the forehead for answering the phone properly, begging Ender to please-for-whatever-gods-he-may-ever-choose-to-believe-in-sake-to-tell-me-next-time-he-has-to-go, and making sure Flora is in the house (sometimes, I  lose track of whichever child isn’t causing me angst at the moment…), I restock the bathroom with toilet paper.

Because, a. I believe in toilet paper. It exists. I don’t just think it exists. I know. b. Whatever my smart-ass 10 year-old son is trying to make you think for evil purposes of his own–I believe in using toilet paper. And by all the gods I don’t believe in–I can’t wait until Ender does too.

More like this: The naked truth about working from home, the real post and The naked truth about working from home, the teaser.

And, playing here today:

The naked truth about working from home, the real post

Showerhead

I’m in the shower when the phone rings, and I hear it through the water and the door, and I know who it is even before Cinder hollers, “Mom! It’s for you!” Shampoo in my hair and my eyes, I’m leaping out of the shower and out of the bathroom without turning off the water—where the fuck is the towel?–and skidding into the combination Lego room/Sean’s office that holds the only upstairs telephone.

“Hello, “Jane” speaking,” I say crisply, sharply. Out of breath? No way, not me–the phone voice kicks in ASAP. My well-trained eldest son—the ire of the mother for misbehaving on the telephone is legendary—hangs off the receiver. On the other end of the line is a VP of a blue chip Bay Street company (like a Canadian Wall Street, but less sexy and exciting) I’ve been stalking for a few days, and I need to talk to him today. He’s in an airport—“Houston? And how’s the weather?—he’s got five minutes, what do I need? I speak quickly and cut to the chase: this, that, and, above all, a comment on that mess. The door of the room creaks open, and my daughter comes in. She sees the phone at my ear and mouths, “Mom? Why are you naked?” I mouth back, “Towel! Paper! Pen!” I cast a desperate look around the room—full of Lego and an assortment of my husband’s crap, including a printer, why the fuck is there no paper here? Or pencils? How can there be no writing implements in the bloody office?

The VP’s already talking and I see, gloriously, buried under all the Lego, a purple marker. This is how the professionals do it, boys and girls—I grab that marker and… I move to start writing on the wall, but the two-year-old comes in, and I have a brief second thought. I make desperate hand motions at my seven-year-old, and—she’s well-trained in this this too—she immediately says, “Ender? Want to watch a show on the i-Pad?”

But their exit is too slow–they’re still in the room and I start to scribble. With the purple market. Not on the wall. On my leg. I start at the thigh and work my way down, to the ankle and instep, contort myself, and write on the inner leg. Then the other one… The VP’s a gold mine. He gives me exactly what I need, and I’m transcribing every word.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I sing as I hang off. And become aware that

a. I’m naked in my kids play room

b. my legs totally covered with purple marker

c. the purple marker is a horrible, kid-friendly, washable piece of shit

d. the water from my hair is dripping onto my legs and smearing! Smearing my interview transcript!

“My laptop!” I scream, and Cinder bounds up the stairs with the lap top. “Um, and a towel!” I add. I’ve been anticipated: Flora’s in with the towel. I grab the towel, the laptop. Scrunch my hair with the towel before tossing it over my shoulders and torso. And I start to transcribe. From the top of the leg—never before am I so grateful for the remnants of the baby weight that give some heft to the thigh—down, up the inside. Down the other one.

And yeah. I got this, that, and the comment on that mess in particular. Fucking score. My heart beat slows down. I’m going to meet deadline, and the story’s going to kick ass.

What you need to know:

 a. It’s not supposed to be like that.

b. It’s like that much too often.

c. If you can’t handle life throwing that at you with regular irregularity, you shouldn’t even think about working from home with children underfoot.

I’ve worked as a freelance writer since 2000, and I’ve popped out babies in 2002, 2005 and 2009. They’ve all grown up in this: I managed three weeks off after Cinder, four days after Flora (I went into labour actually in the middle of an interview, and had to cancel another ), and with Ender, I blocked off a luxurious two-and-a-half months off… sabotaged about four weeks in by a favourite client.

What I mean when I say I’m a freelance writer: I churn out five-to-ten-thousand+ words a month for a variety on business publications and clients (my real life business portfolio here for the serious-minded in the crowd).

What you really want to know: what this means time-wise and brain-wise and child-wise. The time commitment is erratic: I’d say at least two hours a day spent in just keeping on top of having the work—that is, emailing back and forth with editors and key contacts, keeping on top of what’s happening, clearing up questions and details on what I’ve filed etc.—and anywhere from 12-40 hours a week in research-interview-writing mode. My target weekly work rate is 20-25 hours (12-low-effort-maintance, 8-12 high-effort research-interview-writing hours). Less than that, and I’m setting myself up for a hellish 40+ week down the line. (My target earn rate, by the way, is the equivalent of a full-time job within that 20-25 hours. But that’s a topic for another post…). Once or twice a year, I actively invite a hellish week or two because of a particular project, client, or painful state of the bank account.

I used to get the “How on earth do you do that with a toddler and a baby?” comment all the time; now I get the, “How the heck do you manage that with homeschooling?” And everyone who asks it is looking, if they’re honest with themselves, for a magic bullet. They’re looking for that instruction sheet, that secret, that has them visualizing me sitting at a desk typing away—or on the telephone conducting an interview—while my children quietly and peacefully play at my feet.

No such thing. How do I work from home with children underfoot?

The short, and really honest, answer is—in ideal circumstances, I don’t. My most productive and efficient output happens when another adult is in charge of them. My husband—my mother—a neighbour—a friend—a paid babysitter. That childcare and that focused time don’t happen spontaneously. I plan the hell out of my work weeks and work days. I schedule interviews for the days when the kids are planning to spend a day with Grandma. I swap child-care with my film-maker husband. I pay for it when I must. In a four-hour block of child-free time, I get two-days worth of work done. Perhaps more. On the days my mother takes the kids for a long 8-10+ hour day, I am so uber-productive my brain and fingers (and sometimes throat) hurt at the end of it.

That low-maintenance work—checking email, social media, initial research, screwing around on the Internet and calling it research—these are things I can do with kids underfoot, during the littlest one’s naps, while the older two are really engaged with something. These are things I can do in spurts, things that don’t require me to enter the flow or to fully focus. Telephone interviews? I never plan to do these without another adult in the house or the kids (under sevens anyway) out of the house. Writing? There are things I can write in spits and spurts, off-the-top-of-my head, and in 45 minutes after I put the kids to bed. A 5,000 word feature on the history of the Canada-US Softwood Lumber Trade Dispute? Or an analysis of what’s really at stake when it comes to the proposed oil sands pipelines? I need focused time and space to produce that, and I prefer not to sacrifice sleep for that.

Sleep-deprived writers produce second-rate drivel. (Unless they’re in the flow on the novel. That’s different. Right?)

So. In my ideal world, working from home still requires an investment—financial, or otherwise, in child care. But life is rarely ideal. No matter how well I plan, every story and every project has its share of surprises. A cancelled interview—spontaneously rescheduled just as the toddler needs to go down for a nap or the baby needs to nurse. An editor’s demand for a last-minute rewrite, due yesterday. A client’s panic attack requiring me to pull an all-nighter—or to rely on the house’s assortment of electronic devices to babysit the children while I pound away at the keyboard. A last minute “I shouldn’t take this story, but oh-my-god-I-get-to-fly-to-Montreal-to-interview-the-prime-minister!” assignment. And havoc reigns.

Planning allows me to ride out the havoc. The irregular regularity of the havoc trains the children. They know a deadline must be met. They learn by age four how to behave when Mommy’s on the phone (she doesn’t push it too much: tries to keep those unplanned interviews to under 15 minutes).

(Sorry, until age four—no guarantees. A DVD might buy you 15 minutes. Or it might not. The good news: with my almost-8 year-old and 10 year-old, I can handle whatever havoc hits with them taking it in stride. I now only have to outsource the three-year-old on the days when I have to write, write, write—or spend the day glued to the telephone. And increasingly, I can outsource the three-year-old to his siblings. Not for an entire workday—but for a decent stretch of time. So yes, it gets much, much easier as the kids get older. But when they’re little? It’s tough.)

And that, friends, is the naked truth about working from home with children in your life. Possible, rewarding, the only way I want to work.

But it’s work. It requires planning. It throws you curveballs. It don’t look like that sepia-postcard dream you’ve got rolling in the back of your mind in which you write an award-winning article effortlessly while a perfectly balanced and delicious meal is already simmering on the stove and the toddler is at your feet playing with dinky cars for two hours. It’ll have to racing out of the shower naked with shampoo in your hair at least once in your life, and teaching your children swear words nobody at the playground knows yet.

Think you can do it? Of course you can. Right?

More like this: The naked truth about working from home, the teaser

This post is being recycled as part of A Mother Life Hum Day Hook Up #33: 

A Mother Life

The most recent Nothing By The Book post is How we teach children to lie, without realizing it.

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xoxo

“Jane”

The naked truth about working from home, the teaser

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I’ve been trying to articulate a really helpful “this is what working from home really looks like” post—again by request—but the working is getting in the way of writing. So in the meantime, I’ve found this post from Life’s Archives, February 28, 2008. Pre-Ender, so life was in some ways less complicated… but also pre-10-year-old in the house. Still, it’s a good glimpse at some of the challenges. The real, more helpful post will come. Promise. Soon.

I work from home, my desk in the middle of our living room-library-playroom-toy room, and my work involves a lot of phone time with interviewees, clients, editors and the like. My son loves answering the telephone now, and is a great answering service. “Cinder speaking. Yes she is. May I tell her who is calling?” OR (“Sorry, she can’t come to the telephone right now. She’s doing something really important. (Like, you know, playing Lego and stuff).” (It’s an awesome reality check for Bay Street types. Almost as good as the time I ‘wore’ my baby to a bunch of interviews and she threw up on an investment banker’s Armani suit.)

My three year old has just started trying to beat him to the punch. Unfortunately, she picks up the receiver, hollers, “Flora speaking!” and then, most of the time, hangs up… then tells me it is a telemarketer. Often it is. Sometimes, it isn’t.

On one of my recent phone tag days, the phone rang while I was in the bowels of the basement changing loads of laundry, and the three year old answered. When I came back to my desk, I had an email from the chairman of a very blue chip Toronto firm, whom I had been anxious to talk to all day, that read something like this:

“Umm… I just tried calling you… I think… but… umm… a small
child answered the phone and yelled at me. Umm… Call me if you still want to talk.”

We had a great interview afterward. He told me about the time his three year old fed some of his closing documents into the garburator.

2012. The more life changes… it’s the same chairman. Different three year old. I call him at 10:30 a.m. after I’ve sold the children for the day to the Grandma. He calls me back at 5:47, as they’re all filtering into the house. Seven year-old Flora grabs the phone. “Flora speaking,” she says. Listens carefully. “Hold on a minute,” she says. “Mom! It’s for you!” she says, and hands me the telephone as Cinder hands me the Ender, who dozed off on the car ride home and is waking up unhappy.

“Now a good time?” the chairman asks me. I’ve been waiting for this call all day. Ender snivels into my shoulder. Cinder, I can tell, is starving. Flora desperately needs to talk.

“My kids have just come home, and the three year old woke up from a nap and needs Mom cuddles,” I tell him. “I can call you back in half-an-hour–or tomorrow morning?”

“Go cuddle your babies,” he says. “We’ll talk in the a.m.”

I ❤ him.