Magic, yoga, meditation and being the centre of the universe (a 50% deceptive title)

nbtb-notebook-in-red

I.

Monday was my father’s birthday, and he was very far away and I could not hug him and love him and thank him. I have loved him with a particular vehemence this week, for all sorts of complicated reasons. Among them, this: I was, I am the center of his universe. Completely. The most important thing ever. And he taught me to expect to be… the most important thing in everyone’s universe.

OK, this has occasionally made me a challenging lover-wife-friend (uhm, employee).

But on the whole, you know what? I’ll take it over the alternatives.

II.

mjc-cinder-with-maggie

True story:

Jane: Cindeeeer! Can you give me my little purse? The pink one? I left it on the table and I don’t want to come into the kitchen in my muddy boots.

Cinder: What’s in it for me?

Jane: My eternal gratitude.

Cinder: I’m sending it by express dog.

Jane: Do. Not. Fucking. Tie. My. Purse. Around… Christ. Why? Why? Why did you tie my purse around the dog?

Cinder: Because it was funny?

Jane: Because you like to antagonize me?

Cinder: That too. Also, with all this yoga and meditation you’ve been doing lately, I believe you need more daily challenges. And that’s MY job.

[insert bad word here]

[delete it, because it’s wrong to call your eldest son an asshole]

[even when he sorta is]

[sigh]

[a loveable, amazing asshole]

[just annoying]

[god, i love him… i love him so much]

III.

Am Reading:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert—YES! And yes, you should read it too. All of you, any of you. Even if you hated Eat Pray Love—me, I couldn’t make it though that book… first chapter, I wanted to slap Liz upside the face and say, “Stop your fucking whining, privileged white woman. Jeezus, even I’ve suffered more than you.” Um… digression. Point: I did not like Eat Pray Love. I LOVED Big Magic. I ripped through it in a day and a half despite a hundred and one other projects and obligations.

My favourite part:

“Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because fierce trusts knows that the outcome does not matter.

The outcome CANNOT matter.”

The outcome cannot matter.

Fuck. That. Is. So. Hard.

But so necessary.

The most important lesson:

“When I finished that novel, it was not a perfect novel, but I still felt it was the best work I’d ever done, and I believed I was a far better writer than I’d been before I began it. I would not trade a minute of that encounter for anything.

But now that work was finished, and it was time for me to shift my attention to something new—something that would also, someday, be released as good enough. This is how I’ve always done it, and this is how I will keep doing it, so long as I am able.

Because that is the anthem of my people.

That is the Song of the Disciplined Half-Ass.”

My song, too. More or less.

IV.

Am also reading:

Yoga For Real Life by Maya Fiennes, Kundalini Meditation: The Path to Personal Transformation and Creativity by Kathryn McCusker, and A Woman’s Book of Meditation: Discovering the Power of a  Peaceful Mind by Hari Kaur Khalsa

Am re-reading: A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judith Reeves, which is quite fun and useful and playfully inspiring… and also, unintentionally (and it’s clearly me and not the author) depressing (I’m not going to tell you why) (yet).


I am not writing.

This is mostly on purpose…

You: And this blog post is what?

Me: Have we not covered this before? A blog post I can shoot off in 15 minutes while simul-texting with three people is not writing. It’s therapy.

…mostly on purpose. I am trying to reflect, regroup, refocus. Try to listen to that screaming inner child.

BTW, if you think it’s easy to listen to a screaming inner child, you are clearly childless. Those of you who have survived colic, toddler tantrums, and teenage angst know exactly what I mean.

She’s so fucking loud, she’s splitting my eardrums, and I know I’m supposed to love her, but right now? I hate her and I wish she’d move out.

V.

Have tried to read:

Prince Hafiz’s Only Vice by Susanne Carr. I read page one. Then skipped to the last chapter. Spoiler: they got together. True Thing: I really, really, really WISH I had been able to read through the damn thing. How hard could it be? I asked myself. Fucking read it. Enjoy. Relax. Chill.

But I just can’t. Prince Hafiz and his one true vice do NOTHING for me.

On my kitchen table:

Gap Of Time: the Winter’s Tale Retold by Jeanette Winterson. I’m not going to read it. I have opened it and flipped through it half-heartedly. I love Jeanette… I love Shakespeare… but if you’re going to try to one-up Shakespeare, you’ve got to be fucking brilliant. And Jeanette is often brilliant. But this time, she is just… good.

Good enough.

Just not good enough for me to sink into right now. I’m sorry. Jeanette, I’m so sorry. I’m going to try to get Sean to read it, and tell me about it, ok?

Also on my kitchen table:

G.K. Chesterton’s Complete Father Brown. Which I’m re-reading in bits and pieces intermittently to distract myself from the screaming.

(Inner child.)

(In my head.)

(Because listening is hard work.)

VI.

nbtb-notebook-in-red

I’m having a staring contest with something that’s either an idea or a deep-seated neurosis and…

Ender: Mom, can you peel this orange for me?

Jane: I’m busy right now, love, in a bit.

Ender: You’re sitting there staring at the wall!

Jane: I’m thinking!

Ender: Can’t you think while peeling my orange?

It seems like a fair request, right?

It makes me livid.

I peel the orange anyway.

VII.

Sometimes, words—shy words, trite words, words so true they sound clichéd because they have been said in that precise way so often because they are so true (I know exactly I did there, so give your high school English grammar textbook some Fentanyl and don’t resuscitate it until I’m finished)—sometimes, words like to come out only when it’s very dark and very quiet.

Like these words:

My smallest son, tucked
into my right arm pit, a whisper,
“You will never know.”
“Never know what?”
“Never know how much I love you.”
“I know.”
“No. You will never know.”
A kiss. My whisper,
“I love you more.”
“No. I love you more.”
A dark night.
“Impossible.”
“True.”
A heartbeat, rapid,
rhythm of a hummingbird,
breath steady, gentler than a whisper.
A sleep.
Asleep, my smallest son,
In my right arm pit,
I whisper,
“You will never know,”
He answers
with a hummingbird’s snore.

I capture them with my iPhone, left-thumb typing (the right thumb imprisoned under the body of my son).

I think it’s a poem; I call it, “Good Night.”

xoxo

“Jane”

Expiration date

nbtb-wafaa bilal at esker

nbtb-etienne zack

I.

Jane: I’m going to blog about…

Flora: No.

Jane: How about…

Cinder: No.

Jane: Goddammit, it was really funny. I know, I’ll write about…

Ender: No!

Consent. It’s a thing.

This is why I now write fiction. For adults.

(But I’m still keeping notes for a bestselling memoir called The Secret Lives of Children.)

nbtb-gallery view

II.

This is not a non sequitur. You will see.

k d lang on creativity:

“if you just celebrate the fact
that you get to be creative
it’s a totally different ball game
than if you look at it
as a means to an end
as a vehicle to success”

(You can check out the interview that’s excerpted from here).

III.

While everyone was having a final moment with The Hip, I couldn’t bear to look and instead, feeling maudlin, I was binging on kd lang, and wondering… if I had learned I had an immediate expiration date—three months, three years, three days—what would I do NOW?

Sappho1

III.

Flora: Mom? You know how we spend all this time planning your funeral?

OK, we don’t. We only ever did it once… but I think it mildly traumatized them.

Jane: Um… yeah?

Flora: So should I die before you—I want to be cremated and have my ashes turned into glitter.

Jane: Glitter?

Flora: Yeah, you know. Like glitter glue, glitter paint, all sparkly?

Jane: I’m not sure if ashes…

Flora: You probably won’t have to do anything. After all, I am an evolved unicorn. I’ll probably just turn to glitter naturally.

Naturally.

nbtb-priorities

IV.

We all have an expiration date—an end date—don’t we? What’s yours? What’s mine? Suppose it were tomorrow?

Fingers hover over the keyboard. Where the fuck am I going with this?

Ender climbs into my lap and knocks the laptop screen over. I tuck him into my left armpit and kiss his crazy dreadlocked hair. We shift and reposition—I try to reach other his squirming body to reach the keyboard with my left hand…

Ender: You’re squeezing me to death, Mom!

Jane: That’s because it’s rather hard to type while hugging you.

Ender: You can’t stop.

Hugging him? Or the other?

I wrap my left hand around his head. Type only with my right.

Where am I going with this?

If I had an expiration date.. what would I do? What would I change?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard

I keep on hugging. And typing, with one hand.

Then get kd lang to belt out Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the background:

xoxo,

“Jane”

POST-SCRIPTS

For writers:

One Stop For Writers–a new initiative by Calgary writer and entrepreneur Angela Ackerman

From around the world:

Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink by Kristi Coulter on Quartz –also check out author Kristi Coulter’s blog, Off-Dry: Sober Girl, Loopy World

If you’re in yyc:

You MUST go to the Esker Art Gallery  and see Wafaa Bilal’s 168:1 exhibit. –it wraps up this Sunday and it needs to be seen.

Also:

Passionate Kisses featuring performances by The Coming Out Monologues, August 31, at The Simmons Building

Inspired Calgary: Calgary’s First Secular Homeschooling Conference, Cardel Theatre, Sept 3rd—come hear me speak about unschooling.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Plaza, Sept 4th.

-30-

nbtb-wafaa bilal at esker

The price of flow

JaneAusten6

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!

POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: in bed with Jane Austen in Cuba, thinking of you (end, series 1)

Jane Austen Banner

For… you, of course. Always.

JaneAusten1

I.

I am in Cuba, and I am in bed with Jane Austen, reading Sense and Sensibility, a book I have read perhaps a thousand times over the years. No. Wait. Ridiculous exaggeration. And I can do the math, quickly. I first read it 20 years ago, precisely. This month, in fact, exactly. And I’ve re-read it, the entire Austen oeuvre, at least three times a year, sometimes five or six, since. Let’s keep it to three. So. I’ve read each Austen book at least 60 times.

I’m in bed with Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for the sixty first time, and she’s still surprising me.

Today, what catches my attention is this brutal portrait of John Dashwood, the older step-brother of the book’s heroines, and the inheritor of all the family wealth (because, patriarchy):

“He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties.”

But wait. There was hope for John. In his wife:

“Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was:–he might even have been amiable himself. …

But, alas, it was not to be. His wife:

“…was a strong caricature of himself;–more narrow-minded and selfish.”

God, I love me my Jane.

I am struggling—have been for the past two years, almost three, more, possibly—with the discharge of some of my ordinary duties. You know what I mean. Christmas cards, birthday presents, polite conversation… those social niceties that the Dashwoods, cold, selfish, unfeeling but oh-so-proper excel at and use as the yardstick to measure the quality of others.

JaneAusten3

II.

I’m in Cuba. In bed with Jane Austen. I’ve been binging on Hemingway—because, Cuba—but I am overdosed on maleness and testosterone and terse sentences. Give me semicolons, em-dashes and affairs of the heart told from the point of a view of the women to whom they are everything.

JaneAusten5

III.

Cuba. Jane Austen. Affairs of the heart. Writing.

What I love about Sense and Sensibility is… well, everything, actually. All the men—especially the libertine Willoughby. I could love every one of them, although Edward Ferrars would bore me after six weeks, Willoughby and I would make each other miserable within two years, and I’d break Colonel Brandon’s heart. The one I’d really like to take on, though, is Mr. Palmer. Charlotte Palmer’s rude husband? Yeah. He has potential.

I love the women too. I love Mrs. Dashwood as a mother—the vulgarity of Mrs. Jennings. Lucy Steele is an absolutely brilliant creation. And Elinor and Marianne are me. And you. Don’t you think? Each so exaggerated, each of us carries both within ourselves. I am both. I love Marianne more—I know it’s safer to be Elinor—but Elinor will only lead a half-life.

JaneAusten8

IV.

Writing. Half-life. Bed. Austen. Caricature. Ordinary duties.

Do you ever wonder what Jane Austen would have written like if she’d had children? I do, by the time I get to the end of each of her novels—especially Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. I think, holy fuck, what insight, what wit, what perception, what talent.

And yet. So much she doesn’t know, suspect—cannot imagine because it cannot be imagined.

You: “Or she wouldn’t have written at all because she had children.”

No. Impossible. You know she would have. And it all would have been better.

JaneAusten10

V.

Duties. Children. Excuses.

Cuba.

Alone in Cuba with three children, 24/7.

Writing.

Status report, five weeks in: 16,000 words on major pet project. 30-odd essays, vignettes, sketches. Six experiments no one will ever see, but oh, I’m so happy I wrote them.

She wouldn’t have written because she had children?

Ha.

Not my Jane. Nor yours.

And baby—you know I’m writing this for you, right? In bed, with Jane Austen, I am, as always, thinking of you. Dearest. No excuses. No half-life. And if you need to ditch “propriety in the discharge of [your] ordinary duties” … do it.

JaneAusten6

*

It’s almost time to leave Havana, and Postcards from Cuba is taking a break for the summer while I scour for the funding I need to bring you the second and third parts of the project. You are invited to help any way you can:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

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

If today’s your first time here, and you want to catch up on the Postcards from Cuba project, visit the ANNOTATED table of contents.

Jane Austen Banner

*

Although #postcardsfromcuba is taking a break, Nothing By The Book is not. The theme for the summer is “practice and play.”

Expect a new post most Wednesdays.

You: “Practice and play?”

Jane: “Practice and play. You’ll see. And maybe join. Because—no half-life, no excuses, love. Ordinary duties be damned.”

xoxo

“Jane”

JaneAusten4

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #9

A conversation:

Cinder: I like being nine. Halfway to 18.

Jane: Excited about being able to vote?

Cinder: What? No–excited about being able to own a gun!

(I might have gone horribly wrong somewhere here…)

May 24, 2011

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Louise De Salvo’s The Art of Slow Writing.

It’s a slow read… not exciting… but. Useful.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of doing the laundry:

What are you wearing? What do you wish you were wearing? What does that sanctimonious woman standing behind you on the subway platform think about each outfit? Is she just thinking this… or is she one of those people who’s gonna tell you what she thinks, good or bad?

Use lots of mind-dialogue.

 

An explanation:

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

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

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

 Mittens

first published January 1, 2014

We come out of the warm YMCA building, the chlorine scent of the swimming pool still clinging to us. Ender, with the determination only a four-year-old possesses, drags his sled down the stairs. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Slam! It lands on the bottom. He looks over his shoulder. Scowls at me. He’s tired. Hungry. Probably, despite the snowpants, sleeping-bag-jacket, and over-the-face toque, cold, because it’s the coldest, snowiest December YYC has seen in 112 years.

He plops down on the sled in a Buddha pose.

“Mittens?”

I ask, kneeling down beside him.

“No! My hands are NOT cold!”

He’s tired. Hungry. Contrary. It’s at least -15 Celsius.

I shrug. Get up. Start pulling the sled.

It’s a beautiful, clear night. The air feels clean—sparkling—even as it hurts my lungs, bites at my exposed cheeks. I pull the sled on the cleared-of-snow-but-there’s-so-much-of-it-everywhere-I-kind-of-want-a-snowmobile paths. Look at the twinkling lights. The sleeping-bag-parka-engulfed people. Turn my head.

“Mittens?”

“No.”

I shrug. Start walking again, my hands warm in my mittens. I think of what 2013 was, and what 2014 might be. I think of milestones, real and artificial. I think of hope-despair-desire-acceptance-creation-destruction-reconstruction. A plot line emerges from all those thoughts, a fascinating one, and I hear a conversation in my head that sets it up, and I fall in love with it, but it doesn’t really fit into what I want to do, ultimately, with that piece of work, and then my thoughts leap to the unBloggers Manifesto I want to write for Nothing By The Book for January, a polemic that in its current form is not doing quite what I need it to do, and I know it’s because I’m pulling too much into it, going off on too many tangents, and for a piece of writing to work, it needs to be focused, and a polemic piece of writing needs to be brutally so, digressions and tangents only work if you pull them back, at just the right time, to the central idea, the theme… or the chorus…

I turn around.

“Mittens?”

“No. Not cold.”

Mittens Pin

I cross the bridge. The lights are beautiful and almost make me forgive Christmas its existence. And I think about… beauty, definitions of, abstraction of, and that thought takes me to my daughter-who’s-about-to-turn-nine, so beautiful in mind-soul-body that it makes me ache, so full of potential and wonder that it’s that thought, and not the cold air, that stops the breath in my throat for a second… and I think about all the ways that I think fail her as a mother, all the ways that I am not what she needs, and tears swirl in my eyes—but maybe I am what she needs? And, really, what a silly question, because I am what she has and she is what I must learn—and, tears still dancing in the corners of my eyes, I turn my head…

“Mittens?”

He shakes his head. I never imagined motherhood to be this—so full of such intense joy and such paralyzing pain. So full of summits and valleys. So glorious, so rewarding—so fucking heart-wrenching. And that thought takes me to twelve different places at once, and I’m not sure how much self-awareness I want to chase in this moment, so I choose to chase the idea that self-awareness, for all the pain it brings, is also a source of power and that takes me to such very, very interesting places…

“Mittens?”

His hands are folded in his lap, and he’s bent over them. Head bopping. Falling asleep. He bops up. Scowls at me.

“Mittens?” I repeat.

“No.”

I walk faster. Over another bridge. Through the steam rising from the cracks in the ice of the river. I look at the water, ice, snow, steam and feel a shot of resentment and fear. I try to see beauty… and not next year’s flood waters. And I grit my teeth and don’t chase that thought. Find another. Oh, this one I like… I smile—my nose runs, because it’s so cold—my mouth opens and I almost stop moving because all I want is that thought and, irreverently and irrelevantly, I also glory in the fact that it came to me in this moment when I am alone… except I am not, because I am MOTHER and I am never alone, even when I am.

I look over my shoulder…

“Mittens?”

“Not! Cold!”

I can’t really run in my boots and on the snow, but I walk as quickly as I can. Home, home. I cannot wait to be home, and not just because it’s cold, and I love that thought, that feeling. I want to get home.

“Mom? My hands are cold.”

I’m about… what? 200 meters away. Maybe less. I kneel down beside the four-year-old. His hands are pulled into the sleeves of his sleeping-bag coat. I blow on his fingers and slip on his mittens. Kiss the tip of his nose.

Do not lecture, and so, enjoy the brief victory of mind over impulse. Pull the sled the last 200 meters home.

I wish I could tell you that the next time we go out in the cold, he says “Yes” the first time I try to put on his mittens. But he won’t.

I wish I could tell you I will never again doubt that I am what my daughter needs or let my thoughts go to all those other unproductive, painful places.

I wish I could tell you that, somewhere between the YMCA and home, I found the answer to EVERYTHING. Because how awesome would that be?

But, I just want to tell you this: You can fight over the mittens. Cajole, badger, plead. Force.

Or you can wait for those little hands to get cold.

And when they do—put on the mittens. Silently. Without the “I told you so’s.” Or too many expectations for the next time.

Fuck, yeah, it’s a metaphor.

Jane

P.S. Happy New Year, beloveds. I am torn what to ask of 2014. In the closing weeks and months of 2013, I rather wanted a less eventful year. But now that it’s here… eventlessness is so boring. And unfulfilling. So, 2014—be eventful. Be FULL. I’ve got plans for you. And you’d better be prepared to rise to the occasion.

P.P.S. “Jane, why are you anthropomorphizing a calendar construct?”
“Because… Metaphors. So useful.”

Coming sometime this month: the unBlogger’s Manifesto. Minus all of its digressions. Or maybe not. Focus is key. But it is digressions that make life and thought interesting…

P.P.P.S. “I love this! I want more!”
“I am so pleased. Connect with Nothing By The Book on Twitter @nothingbythebook, Facebook, and Google+. Or, for a not-in-front-of-the-entire-Internet-please exchange, email  nothingbythebook@gmail.com.”

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

nbtb-priorities banner

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.

Productive artists

NBTB-beakerhead intrude banner

This week, I am pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy. I am all these conflicting, competing things and I am struggling to make my words perform the way they want to.

Flora: “I’m feeling so sad. I don’t know why!”

Me too, little flower,me too. I put an arm around her and suggest we go up to bed, watch an episode of Friends together—mind pap, not even brain candy, more like Pablum that used to be the marquee brand but has now been retired, gathering dust on a creaky shelf in an old warehouse. It’s well past its expiry date—no matter, today, we will eat it anyway, because it’s what we… well, not what we need. But what we want, right now.

We watch. But it’s not about the watching. It’s about the cuddling—the 22 minutes of togetherness and physical contact and presence. The show on the laptop ensures we can be together without words. Without me lecturing (or whining). Her justifying (trying to put into words what can be silence).

Flora’s little brother was evil today and I worry that I am raising a vandal, possibly, worse, the Anti-Christ, a destroyer of worlds. I’m probably not—but I worry. That’s what mothers do, you know. Worry, worry, worry.

Flora’s worried too. She’s going on a trip next week, to New York City! With her grandmother, without me. She’s excited.

But worried.

Why?

Flora: “I’m concerned it’s not going to be productive.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, whose sentiment is she echoing there? Not mine, or is it? (What she means, really, is “I’m worried I will miss you.” But she chooses those other words. They’re safer.) Her father strokes her hair and kisses the tip of her nose. “To an artist, every experience is productive, important,” he says. I smile. Idly wonder if I should interject, correct “to an artist” to “to a human.” We respect-recognize-value-nurture the artist within Flora so much, but maybe that’s as harmful as trying to squash it, suppose down the line, she decides she’s over this drawing thing and she wants to be a neurologist, shop keeper or construction worker? Are we limiting her with the label?

(mothers, worry, worry, worry, worry…)

Flora’s room, in its glorious messiness, artistic chaos is so beautiful to me. When I open the door and peek in there, I am flooded with joy and love—her room is evidence of her creativity, her freedom, her exploration of the world and of herself in an explosion of colour. It is her self, her soul made physical—the same way my the space-that-is-me-made-into-place is mine (or, I detour, the way my words are me? Are my words me? That’s another story to explore…)

We have been talking about rejigging the children’s rooms for some time now, doing, finally, the Canadian thing and giving them each a room. This week, trembling under the weight of deadlines, consumed with anxiety over “Why haven’t they gotten the mark up back to me yet!” (and also, “why haven’t they paid me, yet, again, oh, wait, they don’t do that anymore, it’s most cost-effective for them not to pay their writers, bastards, I really need to rethink my career NOW”), I channel the nervous energy into making that happen.

It’s a game of dominos—the old film production office on the flood plain transforms into a sanctuary for me and Sean (“But it’s so cold!” “Yeah, but it’s two stories away from the ears of the children!” “And the bathroom!” “Lover, it will be so good, you’ll see…”), Flora, taking over the big bedroom currently shared by the boys and their Lego, Cinder into the shoebox with the big window that’s currently Flora’s over-crowded room (“Roof access!” he proclaims gleefully. “If you abuse the roof access, I’m going to put bars on it,” I warn him. “No you won’t,” he retorts. “It’s our fire escape.” Busted, dammit, never make threats you can’t keep), and Ender inheriting the former family bedroom with the king size mattress he’s been peeing on since he’s been born.

(As we play the dominos necessary to effect the change, I am most excited that my future holds a mattress free of child urine. Yes, yes, yes, YES!)

“Why does Flora get the biggest room?” this from Ender, the third child who’s most sensitive to “not fair”—and says “not fair” even when things are perfectly equitable and reasonable; “not fair” means “I don’t like this.”

I want to say, first impulse, “Because she’s an artist,” but of course, he has an artist within too. So, instead, “Because she needs the space and the light. You and Daddy can use her studio sometimes to draw and paint in—that’s part of the deal.”

“Not fair,” the little vandal humphs and goes off in search of, what? Possibly a hammer, something to smash. To follow him, or to risk it? I follow. He goes to a bin of Lego, starts to create.

I sigh with relief, for the moment. Call for Cinder to help me move a dresser down two flights of stairs. He takes over the logistics of the operation. “As you’re still a little bigger, you’d better be at the bottom,” he instructs me. I look up at him–yeah, another inch, and he will be bigger than me, and I suspect he might already be stronger… “No, just one stair at a time at the top here, but at the third step, veer right and over…” We get the dresser—it’s actually an antique Chinese medicine cabinet, totally useless as a dresser, three pairs of socks fit in each drawer, and my bras barely, BUT I LOVE IT, it is so beautiful—down to the bottom floor without hammering any new holes in the wall. I feel very satisfied. Productive. Lifting heavy stuffy, moving shit from one room to another—when you’ve done it, you feel you’ve done something, accomplished something, right?

Changing three words in a perfectly good sentence to make it better… not quite the same oomph. Waiting for a response to your email, phone message? Utterly draining.

Pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy, I survey the chaos I’ve thrust my house into. The work’s not done yet, but my minions are exhausted. “Go play,” I command, and they scatter.

I text a witch to ask if she can come smudge, exorcise some of the 2013 anxiety from the flood plain-level ex-office, our new bedroom.

Do all the things. Then, drink wine with people I love. Sleep like the dead.

Wake up, still pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy. Which is good, because there’s still so much to do…

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-beakerhead 2015 intrude

Read my mind, Part II

NBTB-read my mind 2

I promised to tell you, didn’t I? And I usually keep my promises. (Except when I can’t.)

So.

I cook the way I write. It’s true. I invite her into the kitchen to watch, and you can too. Just stay out of my way and don’t ask any questions.

It goes like this:

I walk into the kitchen. I don’t do the dishes, I don’t wash the kitchen floor.* I shove the crap on the table and counters towards the back to make some space. I open the fridge. There’s nothing, nothing.

A limp carrot.

A can of coconut milk, half-used.

A bag of… what the fuck was that? Cauliflower?

Flora: Mooom! You’re not going to make us eat that, are you?

Jane: I was thinking about it. I hate wasting food.

Cinder: Mooom! Sometimes, you’ve just got to let things go.

It’s true. And it’s a metaphor, too: some things belong in the pot (on the page) and some, even though they’re there… you’ve got to junk.

The bag of cauliflower (maybe? maybe something else? sweet potatoes?) goes into the garbage.

I take my favourite cast iron pot and scrub it clean—what I’m going to do is, I’m going to toss some rice (sushi) and lentils (red) into its bottom, add a beef bone and the carrot…

Actually, I think there’s some frozen chicken thighs in the freezer, yah? Yah! OK. Keep the beef bone? Maybe… Fuck, yes, lemon grass! And in the fridge—was not there a container of left-over bananas-and-peaches-baked-with-maple-syrup-so-good-but-not-as-good-as-when-they-were-hot?

I see… possibility.

Flora: You could go to Safeway and get some groceries.

I could. But that’s a minimum 45 minutes out of my day, and a 45 minute delay on getting supper on the table, and 45 minutes spent doing something that’s really unnecessary if I just work with what I have.**

I’m thinking… Caribbean-Thai fusion. Something like that. Maybe.

I reach for the cast iron pot… mmm, but not in the pot. Is there a pan? There is. Layer, sprinkle—oh yeah, toss in the gnocchi that we’re not going to finish otherwise, why not—and cover with aluminum foil.

Into the oven.

Cinder: What are we having for supper? I thought you were making slop in a pot.

Jane: It’s now slop in a pan.

Cinder: Lasagna?

Jane: Sort of. Except without the noodles, tomato sauce and cheese.

Flora: Is it going to be good?

Jane: I hope so. We won’t know until we taste it.***

*

Interlude: there’s a freak crazy hail storm, the alley floods and the power goes out. Fortunately, the slop in a pan has been in a hot stove for a few hours; the stove holds the heat. When, storm triage is done and we know we’re not going to flood, I put it on the table.

*

Cinder: Wow, this is really good.

Flora: Mmmm… interesting. A little weird. Not quite what I expected. But, edible. Definitely edible.

Sean: This is the best thing you’ve ever made, OMFG, it is so delicious, can I have thirds?

(He’s my target audience, by the way. Nailed it.)

Ender: This is disgusting. Can I have a margarine sandwich?

(He’s not my target audience. And I know this, so it doesn’t hurt. Much.)

As I spread margarine on rye bread for the ungrateful child, Sean suggests that “I don’t really like it” or “It’s not for my taste buds yet” might be better ways of expressing a culinary opinion. Ender shrugs. Bites into the effort-free, uncreative margarine sandwich, devours it, thrilled.

Sean: Do you ever think we should just feed them buttered bread for supper every day?

Jane: Sometimes. But. You know.

He reads my mind. Nods.

And… yeah. That’s how I cook.

That’s pretty much how I write.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I’ve just had an idea for something I could do with that bag of (was it?) cauliflower. Not the one I threw in the garbage—even I have limits. The metaphorical one. The piece I cut from the last piece I wrote? Yeah. Wrong ingredient for that. But I think… if I use it like this… Yes.

Possibilities.

NBTB-read my mind 2

xoxo

“Jane”

*

**

*** … I was going to make these metaphors explicit. But I don’t need to, do I? Not for you. Read my mind.

Read my mind, Part I

nbtb-read my mind 1

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”

A Meditation on Purgatory, Stories and Memory

nbtb-purgatory stories memory

For Tirzah, The Ink Caster

I.

“On a very basic level, you are what you remember — your very identity depends on all of the events, people and places you can recall.

“[E]motional memory [is] when we relive how we felt at moments in the past — elated, sad, depressed, or angry. When we lose emotional memory of our own youth, we find that we no longer understand young people. If this forgetting progresses, we begin to lose touch with ourselves.

“And if we allow our emotional memories to disappear, as happens with Alzheimer’s patients, we will find a stranger staring back at us from the mirror.”

Richard Restak,
The Art of Doing: How Superachievers
Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well

II.

I remember. Do you?

Although sometimes, I think people with crappy, short-term memories must be happier.

My Flora is losing that sharp, endless, flawless memory that exists during childhood. If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about. Your four-year-old remembering exactly what he ate on the day of his third birthday. The two-year-old recognizing the street you visited only once before.

Ender still remembers everything. It’s so annoying.

Adults are always so amazed at the vividity of children’s memories.

Silly adults. All children remember. Most adults forget.

Worse, they overwrite. Reinvent. Remember what never was.

What a tragedy.

(Except, when it’s a blessing…)

III.

“The least contaminated memory might exist in the brain of a patient with amnesia — in the brain of someone who cannot contaminate it by remembering it.”

Sarah Manguso,
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

I contaminate, by remembering. I change, by re-experiencing.

And then, when I am ready to craft my version of how it really happened: I write it down.

And because you didn’t write it down, I win. My record stands. Your memory, I say, is faulty. Look. I wrote it all down. That’s how it happened.

(Thank you, Winston Churchill.)

The bitch of it is—I know what I’m doing, no one better. And so then, when you ooh-and-aah-and-coo and tell me, “So real, so brave, so authentic” (how I hate that word: Faking Authenticity), I am ashamed, because I know it’s not, it’s always, always performance, interpretation. Every word written, every word withheld: a choice.

The narrative is crafted, controlled.

IV.

In an average year, I write 30-40,000 words on Nothing By The Book. Moments captured, memories reinterpreted. Flora now reads and “remembers” her past in what I write. The responsibility paralyzes me.

“I’m writing me, not you,” I want to tell her. But I’m not sure she will understand.

“Don’t let how I write you affect who you are,” I want to tell her, but is that even possible?

“Don’t let me trap you, bind you, trick you, script a story that isn’t true for you even though it felt at the time true, necessary for me.”

“Are you telling me not to read your blog, your books?” maybe she will ask me.

And I will say… what? I suppose, this: “No. Read if you want to. But remember… it’s all just story.”

V.

“Be careful which stories you expose yourself to.”

Philipa Perry,
How to Stay Sane

VI.

My stories are, sometimes, my purgatory: a path to expiation, forgiveness, through suffering, atonement (a Catholic upbringing, however lukewarm, runs deep).

Sometimes–often–they are pure joy.

Always, the crafting of memory, disguised as preservation.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-purgatory stories memory

Difficult-awkward-flow

nbtb-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”

Mosaic

nbtb-mosaic

I.

I am 3,400 km away, and my phone pings, and it’s Flora, and she writes:

Ender was being a pain in the butt so we had to lock all the doors and he escaped with Maggie so Cinder got Ender and gave him to me and he went to get Maggie so we have now locked all the doors to keep them inside

I laugh. And write,

Oh, no. But well done.

And then text Sean:

When are you coming home?

He’s five minutes away. It’s all good.

II.

I am working out of town this week, and my village is looking after my children and my fam, and it’s okay, they’re okay, I’m okay.

Ping. It’s Flora.

We just got back from a walk at Bragg Creek we found a really cool rock

I send her a picture of me in a boardroom, surrounded by piles of papers.

This is what I did today!

(There are photos of pretty, shiny things I could send her, but I don’t want her to think I’m having too much fun without her, you know?)

She’s not impressed.

“wow so fun”

the sarcasm drips from the texted letters.

What she doesn’t know: it sort of is

III.

The cab driver wants to know how old my children are. “Almost 13, 10, and 5.5,” I tell him. Funny thing: I have to scrunch up my forehead to think about their “numbers,” as Ender always puts it. (Not “How old am I,” ever, but “Mom? What’s my number? How many am I?”). Ender’s number is 5, closer to 6 than to five now. And Cinder, Cinder. Almost 13. I’m about to become the mother of a teenager. How is that possible?

When I swing by his office, the ‘elder statesman’ asks me the same thing. “Almost 13, 10, and 5.5,” I say easily, prepped by the cabbie.

“Do you remember,” he says, “the first time you interviewed me, you brought your baby with you?”

“Really?” I say. “Which one?” We laugh. I think it must have been Flora. She who could not bear to be out of my arms or far from the nipple for the first three years of her life, and who thus lived in wraps and slings and puked on several Armani suites (and once in someone’s gym bag) as I went from interview to interview…

But it might have been Cinder, who had his diaper changed in dozens of Bay Street boardroom, and who once peed on my publisher’s carpet…

IV.

Gods, in this moment, I miss them so much there is a searing pain in my belly in my heart between my eyes.

V.

But in this very next moment, life throws down the gauntlet and I leap at it, grab it, and run with it, and I am so happy, so alive, so me, I don’t even think of them at all…

VI.

A text from Flora:

3 days down! 2 to go. We miss you so much, Mommy!

VII.

The thing is—this is THE thing, THE secret—I wouldn’t be nearly as good at my job if I didn’t have them, love them, miss them. If I didn’t exist in this constant state of tension-negotiation-trepidation, if everything I did wasn’t a weighted judgement call, if my reality did not consist of consequences-chaos-choices-a-tightrope-of-demands-screw-this-I’m-taking-a-break-NOW-oh-no-I’m-not-DEADLINE… if I didn’t live at the intersection of all these frictions, fragments, conflicts… I wouldn’t be the writer I am.

(Nor the type of mother I am, for better or for worse.)

I wouldn’t think the way I do, negotiate the way I do, perform the way I do…

The tension, the chaos, the anxiety are my fuel as much as they are a challenge, an obstacle and a distraction.

Sometimes, there’s too much…

…but when there’s nothing? When it is all calm and tranquil?

I’m bored.

I’m boring.

Flat, unmotivated, unmoving, unproductive.

VIII.

Up at 5 a.m., in cab by 5:30, boarding by 6:20. Caffenaiting. Meeting one, two, three, four. Yawn. More coffee. Run. Think. Juggle. Ping.

Good morning, mom.

Heart swells.

Good morning, little love. Look at the view from my “office” today!

Meeting five, six. I am running a marathon, I am adrenaline, I am so exhausted, watch me collapse—I would draw a bath but I’m worried I might be so tired I might drown in it, ah,screw it, I’ll probably live.

IX.

(I lived.)

X.

They will all be waiting for me at the airport, and I will drown in their love.

I will be exhausted. But also: motivated, moving, productive.

Juggling. Always juggling. Appreciating, celebrating the tension, the chaos, the anxiety as my fuel. And dancing on the tightrope.

For a while, anyway.

xoxo,

“Jane”

nbtb-mosaic

“There is no such thing as reproduction” + “Our children are not us”

nbtb-Ender running by river

I’ve just started reading this: Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (2012), and I think you will enjoy it. Listen, this is how it opens:

 There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads.

In the subconscious fantasies that make conception look so alluring, it is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own. Having anticipated the onward march of our selfish genes, many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs.

Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger...

We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not of the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do.

Loving our children is an exercise for the imagination.

Our children are not us: they carry throwback genes and recessive traits and are subject right from the start to environmental stimuli beyond our control. And yet we are our children: the reality of being a parent never leaves those who have braved the metamorphosis.

The book examines horizontal identities and… love. Ruminate.

xoxo

“Jane”

nbtb-Ender running by river

P.S. This is what I will be reading next: This is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. Because, this:

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living. My short stories and novels have always filled my life with meaning, but, at least in the first decade of my career, they were no more capable of supporting me than my dog was. But part of what I love about both novels and dogs is that they are so beautifully oblivious to economic concerns. We serve them, and in return they thrive. It isn’t their responsibility to figure out where the rent is coming from.”

and, this:

In my mind, fiction and nonfiction stayed so far away from each other that for years I would have maintained they had no more a relationship than fiction and waitressing. … But I’ve come to realize that while all those years of writing fiction had improved my craft as a writer across the board, all those years of writing articles … had made me a workhorse, and that, in turn, was a skill I brought back to my novels.

and, fuck, this:

“For me it’s like this: I make up a novel in my head (there will be more about this later). This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling… This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing — all the color, the light and movement — is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.”

February Spring

nbtb-Feb 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!

Risk

NBTB-Risk

Making the first mark on a blank page, typing the first word—letter—on a blank screen. Beginning, commitment. Do you know, the place before that first stroke, be it with pen or fingertip, how seductive that place is? It is BEFORE. It is potential. Everything is possible. Nothing is chosen. Nothing is wrong.

Nothing is risked.

It is intoxicating-frustrating. It’s… it’s like that moment, when you’re falling in love, pheromones teasing—but before the first kiss. Will you dare? Will she? How will he respond? What will I feel? What will happen next? Will there be fireworks? Or rejection?

The place of “nothing risked, all potential, I took no wrong steps, I made no mistakes” —oh, that place is so seductive…

I have ways of breaking through it in my work. I type: Client Name-Project Title. My byline. I type the names and titles of the people I interviewed. The page is no longer blank. I haven’t really risked anything yet—but I’ve started. It’s like… oh, cautious physical contact before that first kiss, you know? A hand on the shoulder, brushing oh-so-casually against a hip-but-not-lower as you leave the table: “I’ll be right back.”

But then, the choices, risks have to start. The words have to come. In an ideal scenario, they just come: the piece is written long before I sit down to let it out. It writes itself in my head while I walk. Drive. Scrub the kitchen floor, reorganize the books I’ll never read but must own. I know this—this is why, often, I’m so reluctant to sit down at the computer until I know exactly how it begins and how it ends.

(The middle, generally, just takes care of itself.)

But “ideally” is… aspirational. It does not always happen—it does not happen often enough. There is no time for a walk that settles everything, there is no space for it all to plan itself out as it would like to. Because, deadline.

And so, I sit down with the laptop. Blank screen, blank page. I type. Client Name. Mock Up Headline (usually bad). Names and titles of people I interviewed. Key idea. Fuck. I have no key idea. I have no idea what I want to say.

The clock ticks, the deadline looms, and I stare at the screen and I’m pretty sure that no matter what I write, it will be pure and utter crap, and so… I don’t. I don’t want to.

I want to stay in this safe space of nothing risked…

I look at the time and it’s later, the deadline’s closer, and the kids will be home soon, and dinner, and…

I should probably go for a walk—a fifteen minute walk, a five minute walk, it would be more productive than this I am so stupid so lazy why have people not realized this and why do they keep on giving me work and why do I say yes to stories I can’t write, projects I’m too flakey-flighty-dopey-right-brained to comprehend?

I open another window. I type:

“Making the first mark on a blank page, typing the first word—letter—on a blank screen. …”

NBTB-Risk

I write. I make choices. I warm up. And, mid-sentence, starting to run, I switch windows.

“My key message, what I need to nail down in this column is how the gut feeling that comes from the limbic fight and flight response that entrepreneurs get during a crisis, a downturn: what your gut tells you to do is wrong. That’s the limbic brain telling you sabre-tooth tiger over there, wants to eat you, stay very, very still. Paralysis. And you know? A moment of paralysis, of standing still? Do it. Don’t react too quickly, stupidly. But take that moment of frozen-still-scared… to think. Analyze. Evaluate. And look for opportunity. Because it is in crisis, when all the rules of the game are out the window, that innovation thrives, that you make that bet-the-farm play…”

It’s not good. It’s not at all what I want to say. It’s not a fireworks-producing kiss, a bold declaration of love that could be unrequited. It hardly ever is.

But it’s a beginning. A first step. Something risked. A sense of where I need to go. Where to next?

Choices. I keep on writing—the clock, relentless, keeps time—we keep on kissing and that first awkward “I’m not sure-is this ok?” kiss is now forgotten. I think there might be a firework coming—and, oh, yes…

“Mom! Where are you, Mom?”

“I’m writing! Hush! Almost done!”

“Mom! We’re home!”

“Five minutes, and I’m yours… Maybe ten… hold on… just one more sentence… ok, one more after that… and… I’m…”

…done. Fireworks? Not always. Not this time. The earth did not move, and it won’t when you read the final product—although, maybe, you’ll smile, a little, and remember that one line when I almost managed to bring it over the top? Will you? Doesn’t matter. It’s done. The clock doesn’t mock me anymore, time is not a terror, the page is not blank.

I put the laptop away. Choices made. Risks taken.

Story filed.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Solitude and the creative mother

Sometimes, trapped inside my head...

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”

Life hacks for work-at-home moms and other crazy people: always have a Plan Z (and, be a Timelord)

NBTB-Life Hacks1

NBTB-Life Hacks1

My day goes horribly wrong at 10:08 a.m., when the planned child hand-off misfires, and, instead of starting my working day with a child-free and care-free work-out session, I show up at the gym with a crying five-year-old in tow. You know how there are moments when… oh, what? Essentially, you need to make a conscious decision:

“This day will not go as planned. Attempting to fulfill the agenda I set for it yesterday is suicide.”

And then, you need to take a five minute—five second, even—pause to weep. Then breathe.

Then, you need to do physically exhausting, difficult things for a while. No, really. Take a page from my active children: when the world’s just not right, and you want to punch someone… run. Hang upside down from the ceiling. Do push ups until you puke. (That’s 14 for me…)

And then… you look at the day and think. OK. So. No six-hour block of time during which I was going to do all the things. AND write the next great novel. OK. So. What can I do instead? What bits and pieces can I pick off the agenda instead?

And maybe the answer is… none of them. Today, none of them is going to get done. Today needs to be a kid day, a sick day, a play day, a no-earn day, a no-set-goals day.

But often, the answer is… Well, fine. No way can I write today, that won’t happen. But. I can send THAT long overdue email. And I can book THAT interview. And I can follow up with THAT client about THAT no-show payment. (Excuse me… I’m going to go do just that…)

And maybe, with the five-year-old in tow, today is the day that I prep suppers for the next two days… because that buys me an hour, two on each of those days, during which I can do, if not ALL THE THINGS, then at least some of the things.

Or maybe, today’s the day I have a mid-day bath. Or hey, today’s the day I call the client who knows and loves my kids… and interject family reality into the life of Corporate Canada.

“Want to grab a coffee with me and this gorgeous redhead I know?”

And so, some of that happens, and also this: I meet a friend who’s going to a play matinee, and she takes my progeny into the play, and I sit outside the theatre and I write…

Not the six hours I planned to have. But one hour, two hours—hell, 20 minutes—is better than zero.

When I talk with work-at-home parents and parents who’d like to… but can’t imagine how the hell to do it, I find the difference between the two groups is pretty simple. Those of us who work-at-home have two skills.

First, we know how to turn on a dime. To reposition. To recognize that Plan A just went out the window, Plan B is impossible, but maybe, maybe we can take some elements of Plan F and Plan X and graft a zombie that will see us through the day. (Also, we have Plans A through Z, and their variations, in the back of our minds at all times. Because Plan A pretty much never happens…)

Second, we’re Timelords. We know how to grab every last minute of productivity out of those 20 minutes when we have to.

If I had had my six hours, as planned, some of my time would have gone to… making coffee. Drinking coffee. Going for a walk. Checking Facebook. Maybe popping in a load of laundry….

In the 90 minutes that my son is watching Y-Stage’s Pinocchio, I work for 88 minutes. (I have to take a pee break at the 67 minute mark.)*

I leave you today with the most useful productivity-sanity strategy I’ve acquired over the past decade. Turn reading – writing – sending email messages… into three separate tasks.

Mind-blowing, I know. Bear with me. Consider:

  1. It takes no time at all to read email messages. And you can do it during periods of distraction, with children turning summersaults in the background.
  2. It takes no time at all to send an email message. And, ditto.
  3. It takes time, concentration and attention to write email messages. And nothing worth reading (over 144 characters, anyway) was ever typed with thumbs on a phone.

So. Read your messages on the fly if you must. Why not (actually… so many reasons to why not. But more on that another day). But don’t respond. Think. Then think some more. And then, when you have that 20 minute-1 hour block of time… think about it, that’s really quite a lot of time, and yet not enough time to write a draft of the next great Canadian novel or even a barely coherent-but-fileable feature… write out your thoughtful e-mail drafts… that actually answer the question your clients / sources / grandmothers raised in their email.

And then… you can send them out when you’ve got a minute or two here or there. And you will never think, “Oh, crap, why did I hit send!” on anything again.

You’re welcome. You may not realize what I’ve done, but I’ve just completely changed your life.

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. For about 10 minutes last week, I changed the world. Read about it here: Women in Leadership: Opportunities lost, and not because our bosses are misogynist pricks.

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

NBTB-Everyone Swears

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

On writing, reading about writing (just don’t), mothering and raging

NBTB-On writing and reading about writing

I’m curled up in bed with Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and Pierre Berton, and they’re pissing me off.

I decided to do this thing tonight, this ridiculous thing, to give my time this night to reading about writing instead of… writing. I’ve been feeling restless, unfocused—my deadline-and-paycheque-tied work is getting done, as it always gets done, but my creative-passion work is kind of flailing, directionless, and I’m not sure what it needs at this precise moment, a restart button perhaps, a Eureka moment of inspiration, something? Or maybe just a different routine, a novel approach, I don’t know…

So instead of writing, I take Ernest, Stephen and Pierre to bed. I’ve been with them all before, with their fiction, anyway, word-slut that I am. And I’ve devoured Stephen King’s On Writing when it first came out—it was the first, sometimes I think only, useful piece of writing about writing I’ve ever read.

But today, all three of them are pissing me off. Especially Pierre.

And it’s because they’re men.

Well, to be more specific: it’s because they’re NOT mothers.

Writes Pierre:

“The Make-Believe Writer doesn’t really want to write; he simply wants the Aura. The real writer writes because he must.

He writes even when it is torture for him. He writes in despair, knowing how damnably difficult it is, feeling his own self-confidence drain away, realizing the goals he strives for can never be attained and yet he writes because he cannot stop. He will forsake the company of his friends to write. He will ostracize his wife or mistress, disregard his offispring, abandon his social relationships, neglect his meals and his bed, cancel all his engagements. But he will write.”

And I want to smack him. Because… guess who’s bringing him up his meals and feeding his children and making sure all the other shit that needs to get done gets done while he’s indulging in the self-torture of writing in despair because he must?

Sean: What are you doing?

Jane: I’m writing about how you’re a terrible wife.

It’s a little unfair. He tries. And I’ve got half-a-dozen, more, “wives” in the wings—my mother, my coven, all my women, the elitist crazy bitches I love who watch my back. I am not alone, I am never unsupported.

But “ostracizing” and “disregarding” my family, my “offspring” … not an option.

And so I think… Pierre. You selfish, selfish fucker.

And I think… this is why women-writers, mother-writers should never take advice from men. Or childless women.

And I think… I never, ever want to resent my children, think of them as a reason that I didn’t do something I really, really wanted to, needed to do.

So what do I do about that?

Sean: I will try, very hard, my love, to be a better wife.

Except, he can’t. I mean—he can’t be all that I need that mythical, all-supportive wife to be. Because he needs to chase his own dreams and aspirations too: I would not love him as I do if he did not, just as he would not love me as he does if I were Mrs. Pierre Berton.

Virginia Woolf had no children and she longed for, praised the necessity of a room of her own (and, a private income!). I am surrounded, beloved, buried in children, their needs, noises, demands, lives. This is true for most of the women I know who write. They write on ironing boards, in corners, on beds, on stairs. In cars. Park benches. Coffee shops. Room of our own? Ha.

Disregard our offspring? Ha. They are always there, always first. (And the world is always there, ready to censure “mommy bloggers” for the fact that they find fulfillment in creating words and worlds on the screen and don’t find utter fulfillment in changing diapers, baking chocolate chip cookies, and cooing over their off-springs’ every burp, fart, and smile. You know what, world? Fuck you. I coo. I love. I change diapers. And I also Need. To. Write. So take your judgement and expectations and shove them up Pierre and Steve’s…)

Ender: Read books to me, Mama?

Jane: I can’t. I’m swearing at Pierre Berton. Give me 10 more minutes.

Sean: I’ll read to you.

Ender: No. I want Mama.

Jane: Then you have to wait. I’m still raging.

The almost-five year old curls up beside me with a stack of Magic School Bus and Dr. Seuss books. His dad sits on his other side, and picks up a book, starts reading. I breathe. Moan. I’m spent by swearing at Pierre. I’m thinking that Tabitha King is also a writer, completely eclipsed, of course, by the output and fame of her husband. Because he had more talent? Or because she had no wife? And why am I in this whiny mood today?

Ernie, help me.

“He always worked best when Helen was unwell. Just that much discontent and friction. Then there were times when you had to write. Not conscience. Just peristaltic action. Then you felt sometimes like you could never write but after a while you knew sooner or later you would write another good story.

It was really more fun than anything. That was really why you did it. He had never realized that before. It wasn’t conscience. It was simply that it was the greatest pleasure. It had more bite to it than anything else.” (Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories)

I always write best when I’m… a little overwhelmed. Frustrated. Angry. Creation never seems to stem from happiness. Happiness makes me languid, lazy. When I am tranquil and grounded, I’m probably a good mother, friend, lover, wife… but I’m a dull, dull, unproductive writer. When I have time, I am lazy. When there are no other demands on me, but those of my “passion-love” creative work… I don’t carve out the time to really do it.

Ender is asleep and drooling on my pillow.

Sean: Wine? Chocolate? Coffee? Laptop cord?

Jane: No. Sex. Conversation. Then maybe more sex. And you need to make supper every day next week, because I’m going to write from 5 til 9 until I go fallow again.

Sean: I can totally do all those things. Especially the sex.

Jane: And, don’t forget, more sex.

(I know how to sell anything. Please, feel free to take notes.)

Tomorrow, before 5 p.m., Ernest, Stephen and Pierre are all going back to the library. And I’m going to write, not read about writing.

Wait. I’m going to keep Ernest. Because…

“Tell me first what are the things, the actual, concrete things that harm a writer?”…

“Politics, women, drink, money, ambition. And the lack of politics, women, drink, money and ambition,” I said profoundly. (Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa)

and

“When you first start writing stories in the first person if the stories are made so real that people believe them the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. That is natural because while you were making them up you had to make them happen to the person who was telling them. If you do this successfully enough you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for which is to make the story so real beyond any reality that it will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”

Yes. That. Thank you, Papa H.

Xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-On writing and reading about writing

PS I was reading Stephen King’s On Writing, Pierre Berton’s The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers Disguised as a Literary Memoir, and Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips.

PPS Looking for me? Find me here.

A “lost” year: on standing still, moving forward, stepping back

NBTB-A lost year

Come. Come in. I have something I want to show you. Here, over here: this box. That one. And that pile over there. Remember, I told you about them? My papers, my manuscripts, my letters. The record of my early creative life.

They’re all terribly, terribly bad. I mean—not just a little bad. God-awful. It’s hard to say what’s worse—the novel I wrote when I was 13 and the sheafs of heavy metal music-inspired poetry I churned out when I was 15 are probably absolutely the worst, although the novel I wrote when I was 16, and the one I started when I was 18 are pretty bad too.

There is no reason to save them, to hold on to them. They make me cringe, you know, when I look at them? They are so very, so very terribly, wonderfully bad.

They stink.

photo (1)

Flora: What are you doing, Mom?

Jane: I’m trying to write something that’s simultaneously truthful and not asshat pretentious, and failing miserably.

Flora: Oh. Are you going to be much longer? Because I need you to take me to the craft store to buy me more clay.

Jane: Yeah, ok. In a bit. Hold on. I’m trying to explain why I’ve spent an entire year tripping over boxes of molding, unreadable papers.

They actually do stink. I’m pretty sure they’re actively molding. Maybe, if I procrastinate long enough, the mold will finish what the flood started. Maybe, I’m waiting for a force of nature to take agency away from me again…

Cinder: Mom? What are you doing?

Flora: Ssssh. She’s writing about how she can’t throw out those stinky papers.

Cinder: Isn’t it because she’s lazy?

Jane: Silence, progeny. I’m wallowing in artistic existential angst here.

photo

There must be, I think, a part of me that enjoys the wallowing. That wants to stay here, looking at those boxes, looking at the curling edges, the black splotches, red splotches that used to be ink. There’s clearly a part of me that’s getting off on the drama of the destruction…

There’s also a part of me that’s really pleased that this early work is so fucking bad. You know? Wouldn’t it be terrible—it must be so terrible—to look at what you did 20, 30 years ago and say—that was my best work! Why can’t I write like that any more? What’s happened to me? Definitely not the issue here. Those boxes are not full of my best work.

But, but… they are this titillating record of potential. You know? That poem, the one you tried so hard not to read when separating the wet pages, but you did, and you laughed out loud at its pathos? It’s awful-bad, I know. But there’s that one phrase… you know? That one phrase… I like it still, and looking at it, I see the places it’s gone in the intervening 25 years, and I like that. And while I’m embarrassed by the overall badness of the piece… those four words in a row… they please me.

And I’m reluctant to let them go.

Ender: Moooooooooom! What are you doing? I need you!

Jane: I’m trying to explain why I’ve been stuck, unmoving, unproductive… why I’ve felt tethered, trapped by the past, unable to move into the future, paralyzed by what was, torn between denying it and embracing, obsessed with the idea and yet working really hard at not thinking about it, not dealing with it…

Ender: I’m hungry. And I need you to get my bike out of the shed. And I can’t find my shoes. And also, I think I pooped my pants.

Jane: Right. I should do something about all of those things. Just give me a few more minutes here…

Do I need to let them go? An impossible question. What would I have done, had the flood not rampaged through them? The most likely answer: nothing. They would have stayed in their boxes. Existing. Unexamined. For years, decades, a lifetime.

I don’t like being forced to examine them. Examine myself: who I was, what I thought, how I dreamed.

Flora: Mom? Are you still angsting?

Jane: Yes!

Cinder: Seriously? Do you want me to just go chuck them for you?

Jane: No!

Ender: Somebody! Needs! To! Clean! My! Bum!

I had this not-so-secret plan, after I failed to be able to deal with the remnants of the papers right after the flood (I burned my destroyed letters; I couldn’t touch the manuscripts), that I would mark the anniversary of the loss with a big, cleansing bonfire. I’d invite my writer friends, and we’d be all very solemn and supportive, and then get rip-roaring drunk, and we’d burn my past, and a new stage of uber-creativity would rise from the ashes…

photo 1

I know. Cliché. But, why not?

So here I am, a year later. And there they are, my boxes, my papers, my past. Still unexamined, unsalvaged. Neither discarded nor saved.

In limbo.

Me? I look back at this past year as, in many ways, a lost year. A year in which I both failed to move forward and didn’t have the ability to look back: a year in which I stood still. But maybe I had to. Maybe, for possibly the first time in my life, I just had to stand in place for a while…

Cinder: OMG, Mom, are you still writing about those stinky papers?

Flora: Hey! She’s a writer! That’s what she does! But could you please hurry up? We have things to do! Places to go!

Ender: I’m! Still! Poopy! And! Hungry!

Jane: Almost done. Almost done…

So. I’m not quite sure I’m done standing still. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe I need to stand still a little longer. Digest-marinate-process all that I was a little longer.

Cinder: Moooom!

But not for too much longer. Not forever. Because I have things to do. Places to go. Stories to write. A life to live.

My terrible-no-good poems and novels—and hey, here’s a short story I wrote in my 20s, and this one actually doesn’t totally suck… it’s not good, but it’s not god-awful either—my papers, I think, will stay in their purgatory for a little longer. Just a little longer. And when I’m ready to get moving again, I will let them go.

But not today.

No bonfire this year.

But, there will be a hell of a party…

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-A lost year

P.S. An invitation: If you’re in Calgary, you should spend some part of your weekend celebrating the one-year anniversary of the flood and Neighbour Day in one of the communities you helped to save. If you worked in Sunnyhill, our big celebration is on Saturday, June 21, from 5 p.m. on; the greater Sunnyside celebration is on Sunday, June 22, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the site of the Crisis Café.

If you have no idea what I’m blathering on about, YYC Flood 101:

Where have you been, Jane?” June 27, 2013

“Everything back to normal, Jane?” July 4, 2013

unLessons from the flood: we are amazing  July 9, 2013

Running on empty: why “so are things back to normal?” is not the right question October 29, 2013

A love letter to my flood plain, June 11, 2014