Jane does Disney like this: no mouse, no rides, a hell of a lot of angst

November 1, Friday

I’m going to Disneyland!

Well, actually, I’m not. My son and his cousin are being taken to Disneyland by their grandma. I’m coming along for the ride and for support. I’m not going to the parks.

I’m going to write and revise and relax. And maybe play.

I am two scenes short of finishing something I didn’t even know I was writing. Perhaps I will finish it on the plane.

I don’t. The day is too fractured.

November 2, Saturday

The boys and Grandma do Disneyland. I go to the Walmart Super Centre to get them food and other supplies, and then I do downtown Anaheim, nominally looking for a writing spot. But about 15 minutes into the adventure, I decide, no, not today. Today, I fill the well and look at pretty things. Hello, honey. What? Really? Absolutely, take me there, show me.

Tomorrow, I write.

November 3, Sunday, 3 p.m.

I write. Intermittently. I need to do a Walmart run, and on the way, I meet a Syrian immigrant who runs a cigar shop, and I share a cigarillo with him in the smoking room he created in his parking lot. Listen to his story.

Back at the hotel, I write the penultimate scene in the [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title] trilogy by the pool. It’s not very good. It was supposed to be the last scene, and I know it doesn’t do the job. Something else is needed. I feel it shaping in the back of my mind and close my eyes for a moment. Listen to Ender and his cousin splash and shout.

Ok. Yes. That makes more sense; of course, it can’t end like this. But this ultimate scene, the final, trilogy-closing scene? I can’t write it yet. Next, step, go back to the beginning. Revise Episode 1. Episode 2. Episode 3. Then revise some more.

I fucking love revising.

Neil Gaiman has a line in one of his speeches where he says something like, “The second draft is where you make it look like you knew what you were doing in draft one.” Wise man.

Ender’s cousin, dripping wet, peers over my shoulder at my Scrivener document. He’s a good reader, but my font is too small and there are too many words on the page for him to really follow. Thank god. His aunt has a filthy mind, and I’d rather he learnt all those words and concepts in the school yard. I mean, from my brother.

“Are you making another book?” he asks. I nod. He thinks it’s pretty cool for two seconds, then goes back to the pool.

I close the Scrivener document—then open it, export the file to Word. Repeat the process for Episode 1 and 2. Email all three to all of my email addresses. My back-up. I am, after all, working by the pool…

November 4, Monday, 9:24 p.m.

Alice, my San Francisco-dwelling friend, is flying in to see me while I’m in Anaheim, and she’s en route from LAX to my hotel. We haven’t seen each other in more than a year—near a year and a half. We’re going to paint this boring-ass town—and Anaheim, bar Disneyland, is boring as fuck—all the colours of the rainbow. I keep on asking the Uber drivers and baristas I encounter what the locals here do for fun, and apparently, it’s nothing. They go to the Packing District—which is very cool, but it’s one building, people.

“Well, and we go to LA,” one says.

But I don’t want to spend 40-75 minutes in shitty Southern California traffic. So. Anaheim. Coffee shops and hookah bars—of course, I find them all—and maybe a trip to the beach. It doesn’t really matter. We have a hundred conversations to share that cannot be had over text.

My two days with Alice are cutting into my writing and revising time on this trilogy that, three weeks ago, I didn’t even know I was writing. But that’s ok. Because last week, I was averaging 5,000 words a day so that I’d be done the first draft of the final episode/novella by the time Alice arrived. Not working now was part of the plan.

Um. Yeah. So, you know how three weeks ago, I wasn’t writing?

Apparently, I was. I just didn’t notice.

I remember starting the novella that is now Episode 1 of [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title]. Flora’s health issues, which had started to manifest in the fall of 2018, and started to unravel and spiral out of control that December, meant that by January, I had pressed PAUSE on my big projects. In February, as an attempt at self-care (I wish I could explain this to the family therapist, but I’ve given up on making her understand anything), I decided to try to write a short story. I wrote it in 15-minute increments through February. Perhaps the first week of March. Then. hospital, hell.

Let’s not talk about April.

Then, Wales. We can talk about Wales. (You can read about Wales in Kick Like a Girl).

I didn’t write in May, but knew, by June, I had to do something. I couldn’t go back to the story I was writing in February. Also, it was bad. I didn’t bother to re-read it, but I remembered very clearly, it was bad, and it didn’t go anywhere, and I hated it. How could I not hate it? I wrote it in hell.

I started a new, different short story. Just to have something to write. I gave it the same setting at the last one. Might as well salvage something from that disaster, I thought.

Fifteen minute increments. Very little engagement or passion. I felt that second story was very, very bad too.

And what was the point of all that writing, anyhow? I put it aside.

Spent the next few weeks trying to get back into the projects I set aside in December 2018. Still felt too stupid to face them.

(I don’t care what the therapist says: this isn’t negative self-talk. It’s a statement of fact. Trauma takes its toll on mental acuity, and pretending that it doesn’t is… stupid.)

Then, the Banff Investigative Journalism Intensive. You know what happened there. (If you don’t, you can read about it in Heaven Hangover.)

Then, post-heaven crash. Therapist. My identification of the problem: I’m not writing, and this is making me so unhappy, I want to die.

No hyperbole, by the way.

Solution: write, girl. Write shit. Write badly. Write unpublishable, unsellable crap. Write something. Get to the end of something. Start something—more importantly, finish something.

Well—there’s that story. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as I thought as it was. It’s not great. But. It has potential. Grit teeth.

Write.

Two days to finish [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title] Story 2.

Instant realization that if Story 1 is only as bad as Story 2, I can probably save it, and then I have two-thirds of a trilogy.

A week to resuscitate and save Story 1.

Decision to write Story 3 at a pace of 5,000 words a day over a week. To show myself I can.

Write shit, write badly, write to finish, write to show yourself you can still do it.

Bam. Fucking done.

(The therapist is still nattering on about balance, and, I don’t know, people. I’m thinking, I fixed my own problem by ignoring all her advice, gritting my teeth, and making myself write to a self-imposed deadline. But I’ll give her credit for creating the space for me in which I could articulate this need to myself.)

(Ok, I haven’t actually seen the therapist recently. She’s still nattering in my head. At least I’m not paying her for that monologue).

Alice texts. “In the lobby.”

“Coming.”

November 5, Tuesday

Yesterday, Alice and I spend some time in a fantasy treehouse (long story) and end up reading Tarot cards at a hookah place—you know it, that’s where I end up when I need a home base. Also, she made me cry. Self-awareness fucking sucks people; I don’t know why all these New Age prophets have so many disciples.

Today is beach day. Coffee and breakfast at Seal Beach, a long walk along Sunset Beach, lunch, ice cream, and then a cigar break at Huntington Beach. We’re talking—and Alice makes me cry again, and it feels awful, but, you know, that’s me now, really. Then she makes herself cry. We agree it’s all part of the processing process—I don’t call it healing, because a) ugh and b) definitely not healing.

Also, I still think self-awareness sucks.

And so, I escape. As we meander along the so-beautiful-it-looks-unreal Southern California landscape (to be clear, the beaches and ocean are beautiful, the cities, ugh, and I can’t help but imagine how amazing it all must have been before people), I’m pondering [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title]. It’s not great. The bones are decent. The execution pedestrian. The characters—well. I can fix some of that. Each story was supposed to be a light-hearted sexy rom-com, but apparently, when you’re traumatized and worried that your child is going to die, dark themes infect your work. The pieces are not funny, although there are funny moments.

They are not under contract, so I have a great deal of freedom with them. I don’t have to make them anything. I created them to keep myself sane, and moving. Mission accomplished.

Now, I can take these shitty first drafts and use them as a writing apprenticeship. What can I do to make them better? How can I refine them? Where can I cut, where should I add? Who, perhaps, should I kill?

They will be another leg of my apprenticeship. They will keep me moving.

The think-ahead, make-use-of-everything part of me thinks that I might be able to salvage enough out of them to throw them onto Kindle Unlimited, perhaps under an existing pen name, perhaps under a new one.

Most of me, though, is focused on just working through them. The bones are good. The flesh—some needs cutting, some needs toning. That’s the next step.

Alice: You gonna work tonight?

Jane: God, no. After the boys are asleep—cocktails in a boxcar! I saw this place on Saturday that you will love…

Wednesday, November 6

Yesterday, the Disneylanders—Ender, his cousin, my mom—left the hotel room at 7:30 a.m., hit Disneyland at 8 a.m., dragged themselves back to the hotel at 3p.m., immediately jumped into the pool, spend three hours there, and were asleep in their beds by 7:30 p.m. Slept for near 12 hours. Disneyland has been described to me as the vacation that fights back: “Having fun has never been such hard work!” They’re exhausted. But exhilarated.

It’s an infectious feeling.

Sort of…

I wake up thinking about Sylvia Plath.

In our conversation on Monday, Alice is pointing out my “things”—buckets, obligations, commitments. Pushing me to identify my “non-negotiables,” my “this is sacred, I will not give it up.” That’s when she makes me cry.

“I don’t have that much more to give up,” I tell her. “What? The seven minutes a day I reluctantly spend on Facebook?”

She uses herself as an example. “Where am I on your list?” she says. “Surely, you could have spent these two days in Anaheim writing in the hotel room, and not with me. For example. I know I’m not one of your sacred priorities.”

I kinda want to tell her to fuck off.

I am not that kind of artist, I tell her. I am not a monk or hermit; I am not a fanatic. My writing is embedded in my life, not separate from it.

On Tuesday, ankle-deep in salt water, she suggests that perhaps, then, what I need is to wait. Wait two years, four years—wait. Be Ender’s mother and teacher, Flora’s caretaker, focus on those things. And then write, later.

We’re almost not friends after that, to be honest. She’s just explained the patriarchy, in one misguided, well-intentioned sentence.

“I’ve been waiting to have more time for 17 years,” I tell her. “I had more time, comparatively, for two. Then it disappeared. There may never be more. What the fuck is wrong with you people that you can’t understand that?”

She apologizes. I’m not sure she understands. We move on to talk about her shit, which is easier for me, harder for her.

In the back of my mind, though, I’m now running on two tracks:

1-How do I fix [You Don’t Get To Know The Series Title]?

2-Is there anything left that I am willing to give up?

And on Wednesday morning, thanks to Sylvia Plath, I’m able to give myself—and Alice—the answer:

Writing is the first love of my life. I have to live well and rich and far to write… I could never be a narrow introvert writer, the way many are, for my writing depends so much on my life.

Sylvia Plath, Letters Home

I spend the rest of Wednesday NOT writing. Instead, Alice and I cafe-hop and thrift-shop in Fullerton until it’s time for her flight to San Francisco; alone, I find a bar with a smoking patio, and I smoke my last holiday cigarillo and drink a double Jameson’s before meeting up with the Disneyland crew at the hotel.

Thursday, November 7 – Going Home

We pack, we eat, we catch a 90-minute Uber ride to the airport; we are going home.

The kids—and grandma—are happy but exhausted. I’m… it’s hard to tell. Relaxed, yes. My residency at the Banff Centre was marvellous and exhilarating but it was not relaxing. Spending three hours in a coffee shop treehouse with a good friend, beach hopping, thrift-store hunting for two and a half days… that’s a holiday, vacation. Earlier in the week, someone asks me if I’m on vacation, and I say, “No.” But, ok. The first three days, not so much. Those last three days, yes. Vacation.

The problem with vacations, of course, is that they don’t solve any problems. They take you away from them. Maybe, by giving you distance and separation, vacations give you a new perspective on the shit you need to go back to. Maybe, in the break, vacations give you renewed energy with which to tackle the problems.

I’m still not quite sure I’ve identified mine.

Writing is the first love of my life. I have to live well and rich and far to write… I could never be a narrow introvert writer, the way many are, for my writing depends so much on my life.

Sylvia Plath, Letters Home

Sylvia Plath was a precocious teenager when she wrote that—freshly in college, pre-love affairs, pre-Ted Hughes, pre-children, pre-publication. And, of course, her story ends very, very badly, head in the oven, two orphaned children. Let me be very clear—she is not a life role model for me.

But here, we agree. When Alice responds to my challenges-as-I-see-them-right-now, she keeps on saying equivalents of “That’s a lot of shit to manage” and “What can you give up?”

And, having slept on the question for several days, my answer is—wrong question. A very Christian question—I have to tell Alice this, because she’s struggling with some bad-ass (not in a good way) fundamentalist Christian programming. Her God says, “An eye for an eye,” and “Take what you want, but you’re gonna pay for it, and it’s gonna hurt.”

I don’t believe in her god, any god. And today, my answer to, “What can you give up?” is NOTHING.

I am going to do it all.

Now.

I’m not going to wait another year or four or ten. I’m not going to sequence. And I’m not going to sacrifice and barter.

I need to be a good, functioning, willing, fulfilled mother to Ender and Flora—and Cinder, god, at the moment, my most neglected child—I remind myself that at his age, all I wanted was to be neglected by my parents. He probably welcomes the space. To be a good mother as I define it, I need to write, work, create, live, love, and play. When I give up those things, I am a shitty, shitty resentful, angry mother. And nobody wants that—not me, not the kids.

To work and to write, I need to live wide. I need to love, to laugh, to dance and to suffer. I need to feel the sunlight on my skin, and the blood in veins.

I would not write as I do if I did not live as I do, if I did not love these children as I do. And I would not love these children–or you–as I do if I did not write…

Like Sylvia, I don’t want a narrow life.

When her life narrowed, she died.

I need to live.

And I don’t want balance. Fuck balance.

I want passion. I want tension. Stimulation.

But also, quiet, and a predictable routine in which to do my work.

As I said, I want it all.

And I’m not going to compromise.

It might be because I’m writing this in an American airport, but I’m pretty sure—if I compromise? The terrorists win.

The therapist is not going to like this.

I’m not sure Alice will, either. Alice, babe? “What do you need to give up?” is the wrong question—unless you answer it with, “My preconceptions of fucked up, unfair rules and patriarchy-reinforcing limitations.”

It’s time to board; I leave you with words of wisdom from Her Majesty:

xoxo

“Jane”

So, yeah, I met Julia Cameron (in the flesh!): The power of story, dialectics and the creation of god

I’ve left paradise and I’m in a crowded parking lot. It’s tucked between the Ukrainian Catholic Church that, I guess, presumes to be a conduit to paradise for its worshippers, and the cultural centre it runs as both a community service and a modest revenue stream.

Even churches need to keep the lights on, somehow.

The Church is St. Basil’s, an unusual and beautiful name that always makes me think of both Sherlock Holmes and John Cleese (and OMG, people, John Cleese playing Sherlock Holmes, why has that not been a thing?).

(Excuse me—I’m googling “Has John Cleese ever played Sherlock Holmes?”)

(OMG, people, John Cleese played Arthur Sherlock Holmes, the grandson of the great detective, in a 1977 British film called The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It, and you can watch it for free on Open Culture.)

(Back to regularly scheduled programming…)

I’m here because in 2015, then-Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Decore, Janice Sarich, lost her job.

Follow me for a while; I’ll explain.

I’m actually here for Julia Cameron’s first Canadian appearance in more than 20 years. Julia Cameron is the author of The Artist’s Way—and more than 40 other books, several musicals, plays, screenplays, etc. She’s also the director of an art film, the creation of which is a study in synchronicity, serendipity, and also, perseverance past the point of reason.

Julia has been my writing teacher and creativity coach for five years. Today is the first day we are to meet. And when I say meet, I mean, I will be in a church hall with 300 other people while she talks. It’s not going to be a particularly intimate experience. But still. We will be in the same room, I will have seen her, truly, “live,” and this brings me much anticipatory happiness.

Back in 2014, when I was drowning (metaphorically, although the flood was real enough), The Artist’s Way threw me a lifeline and turned Cameron into my first real teacher, and the one I keep on going back to, again and again and again.

And again.

I don’t like her.

Let’s make this clear right away, so that you are not expecting a hagiography. We are not friends, Julia and I. I do not have a rose-coloured schoolgirl’s crush on her. I am neither the Peter nor Paul to her Jesus, nor the Mardana to her Guru Nanak.*

* You can google Mardana and Guru Nanak. Or, you can read The Singing Guru, a marvellous novel by Kamla K. Kaur (also author of Ganesha Goes to Lunch and Rumi’s Tales from the Silk Road), about the life of the founder of the Sikh religion—that’d be Guru Nanak—and his faithful companion, Mardana.

If we were closer in geography and fame, we would not be friends, meeting for a coffee and a chat. I don’t accept Julia’s tools and wisdom uncritically, as gospel. Frankly, I argue with her, fight her every step of the way. I call her names—throw her struggle with alcoholism and co-dependent romantic relationships in her face (repeatedly and unkindly). Tell her that if she spent less time gazing out her window and writing Morning Pages and more time perfecting the craft and refining technique, maybe she’d be famous for her poetry or her musicals. Or her novels would be, like, good, and they’d sell.

I am mean to her, so mean to her.

I hate her.

She is my most beloved teacher.

My refusal to be an uncritical acolyte notwithstanding, I’m here to pay homage. I’m quite aware of this, long before I get into my hic-cuping (Please don’t die!) 2007 Nissan Versa (grey) (I’m telling you this because Julia likes specificity, just as much as Writing Down the Bones author Natalie Goldberg does) at 5:30 a.m. that morning to drive the 300 km that will take me to St. Basil’s Cultural Centre in Edmonton.

I know I am here to give gratitude and pay homage long before Julia Cameron enters the hall and I leap to my feet, giving her a standing ovation before she utters a word, because, fuck, Julia, there you are, after all these years, in the flesh, you’re real, would I be where I am, who I am, right now if you hadn’t been thrust upon me back in 2014?

Julia Cameron is 71 now, and an old 71, a frail 71. My mother is 68 and a) she looks much younger and prettier and b) she could easily take Julia in a fight. Janice Sarich—the organizer—warns us before the Godmother of Art, the Midwife of Creation enters the hall that Ms Cameron has health issues, and because of them, there are some rules we need to follow. We are not to badger her, approach her, crowd her—there’s a red velvet rope strung as a barrier to separate us from the lectern and we are not to cross it. There will be no book signings or requests for selfies. We are here to get what she is willing to give us—and to demand no more.

I know from her books that Cameron is a highly introverted, very sensitive and anxious—neurotic really—and has suffered at least two nervous breakdowns.

Those are all the things about her that annoy me when I read her (Could you be a little less neurotic, Julia?), those are all the things that make her such a sensational teacher.

If I am a doubting Thomas and a pre-conversion St. Augustine—maybe even a Rene Descartes, who, had he lived half a century earlier may well have been burnt at the stake—the woman who brought Cameron to Edmonton—to me—is a less critical disciple. Former MLA Sarich is in the honeymoon phase of the student-teacher relationship, you know, when Socrates can do no wrong in the eyes of Plato, when Jung nods his head enthusiastically at every word Freud utters… even though, if he lets himself think, he’ll see that actually, um, ah, I dunno, maybe the old man got it just a little wrong?

I’ve never had that phase with Cameron. I’ve never had that with anyone. Hero-worship, goddess worship—I envy it when I see it.

Sarich lost her job at the Alberta Provincial Legislature when my socialist, progressive, feminist, “Damn straight I will dance at the Pride Parade!” premier unseated the oligarchy that had been lording it over the province for 44 years. So as soon as Sarich introduces herself and her story, I know some pretty core philosophical differences separate us. In 2015, I celebrated with abandon—if not precisely her loss, then my premier’s win. When the Conservatives returned to power in 2019 under a reprehensible platform that offended virtually all of my values as well as my reason, I mourned.

But when I talk to Sarich, all I feel is gratitude and admiration. Because she turned her tragedy and trauma—and job loss is traumatic, no matter how common in the modern economy—into this opportunity, not just for herself, but for me and for 300 other people. To meet Julia, to work with Julia.

For an emotionally exhausting eight hours.

At 4:30 p.m. that day, I revise my estimation of Julia as old and frail. Fuck, the woman might be 71 and battered by life, but she’s also tough and committed. She might have health problems. She may pause at the lectern for a long, long while here and there, to catch her breath or to recall her train of thought. But she gives us her all for the entire day, shepherding her energy carefully, resting in-between when we break off into our mini-clusters—but, at the end of the day, still giving it all, as fully engaged, as fully present as she was at its beginning.

I bow my head and come the closest to hero-worship, goddess worship I will ever feel.

There are several points during the day when I wish I hadn’t come. The first happens early in the day, during one of our first break-off clusters. The workshop for 300 of Julia’s biggest fans is surprising intimate, because Julia (clearly, she’s done this before) speaks for a little bit, gives us a written exercise, then has us break off into clusters of three, four or two. Each time, we are to connect with new people; each time, we are to share ourselves with strangers.

I fucking hate this. There is immense creative power in being vulnerable, open, exposed. I know—I’ve just come off a 10-day stint in Paradise in which I gave myself like that, completely. And I am still so very vulnerable and leaking tears and love. But these people, here? I don’t know these people at all.

And this is a fact, not an opinion: being vulnerable and open with people you don’t know and trust is stupid.

This is also a fact, not an opinion: The Artist’s Way exercises Julia is leading us through are useless unless one is stupid and open. I mean, vulnerable. Ugh.

I hate her. I wish I hadn’t come. Fine, Julia. I’m here. For you. My stupid list… numbered one to five. Things people in my family thought about Art. Imaginary lives. Things I’d do if I knew I didn’t have to do them perfectly. U-turns…

My first two clusters are marvelous. The women—the audience is 90 percent female, and also, 95, 99 per cent white, and this is sadly relevant—are all also open and vulnerable and loving. And so they set me up for what happens next.

Fine. No blame. I set myself up. I relax into the vulnerability. I start to feel safe.

Bam!

Julia says, she’s going to dictate some questions for us, and we are to answer them in our best Obi Wan Kenobi impersonation. I’m not a Star Wars fan, and while I know the difference between Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda (Yoda’s the green one, right?), I’m not sure which one of them it is who says, “There is no try. There is only do.” But I think that’s what she’s asking for. Right? Anyway. Jedi master advice to the Padawan. This much I know. Jedi, wise.

She dictates.

What do I need to do?

I write:

Write and build.

She says:

What do I need to try?

I write:

Rejuvenate, recharge, restart.

(I actually think, “I need to let go,” BUT I AM NOT LETTING GO OF ANYTHING, analyze that!)

Number three, says Julia:

What do I need to accept?

Motherhood is forever.

Corners of my eyes tingle, sting.

Number four:

What do I need to grieve?

I don’t want to do this fucking exercise.

But I write:

Loss of freedom. And time.

Tears stream down my face, hot and sticky.

Last one.

What do I need to celebrate?

This one’s hard. But I find the words.

Love. And my talent. I’m fucking amazing and I’m still here.

My face is wet, soaked when we break off into the clusters. Fuck you, Julia, I wasn’t quite ready for that. Fuck honesty. Sometimes, a little bit of distance and delusion is good. And now, in this state, I need to be with people? Why would you do this to me?

We’re a  group of four, a young stay-at-home mom, a woman who could either be my age or be a decade my senior, hard to tell, and a post-menopausal matriarch. And, me.

I want to stay to stay open, so I tell them the exercise really triggered me and I was crying and I pretty much can’t stop. They make supportive noises. We share our lists, without details, context, backstory. Then, the matriarch starts asking questions. Who, what, why. She likes to be in charge. The young stay-at-home mom says something about motherhood, challenges, sacrifices. “You will never regret this time,” the matriarch says authoritatively. “There is so much time to do everything you want after…” And she launches into the story her of her perfectly sequenced life.

I can’t bear it. Because sometimes there’s no time, there’s no more time. Sometimes, just as you think there’s more freedom, more time, everything comes crumbling down, and then what? Is it still worth it?

Right now, to be perfectly, brutally honest, I don’t know. I don’t know if it was worth it. Maybe I should have been more selfish, more focused on what I needed back then. I’ve lost so much time, I’m losing so much time now, I’m wasting the time I do have…

What happens when you find out there will not be more time, more freedom? And you will never get back what you lost, and you have to figure out how to work with what you have?

And what is it with this crap of telling women—sacrifice everything you are, everything you want now, because sometime in the future, when nobody needs you anymore, you can do the things that you…

Fuck that shit.

My tears come again. Hot.

What do I need to accept?

Motherhood is forever.

What do I need to grieve?

Loss of freedom. And time.

I don’t want to out Flora, her story, her struggle to strangers.

But they are looking at me, confused, but, I think, also, compassionate.

“I have a sick child,” I say by way of an inadequate explanation. “I don’t have more time, now, that she’s older. My challenge is to figure out how to work with the time I have.”

I don’t add that I’m having a really hard time making use of what time I do have. That I spent most of it exhausted, non-functional.

The matriarch looks at me. I don’t really expect words of wisdom. Just, what? Acknowledgment? That it’s hard.

“I know this couple,” she says. “Married thirty-two years. Never a cross word between.”

There’s no more to her story, although her mouth keeps on moving and she’s making words. I excuse myself and go cry in the washroom for a while.

I’m not angry. Just unsupported. And reminded that it is stupid to be vulnerable in front of strangers.

I recover sufficiently to be present and to listen to Julia. But I know that even though I carry out the exercises, between myself and the page, fairly honestly, I will not be naked to strangers again today.

This is not unfortunate. It’s smart, safe, necessary. Just as necessary as, when walking home late at night, choosing the well-lit paths or opting to call an Uber instead of taking a shortcut through the dark alley or ambush-point filled urban park.

The next point of pain comes during the Q&A on Morning Pages. The Morning Pages, if you’re not an Artist’s Way acolyte, are the primary tool Julia gives us for creative recovery—and perseverance. Three pages, written in longhand, first thing in the morning. Other than those guidelines, anything goes.

In my Morning Pages, I often tell Julia she’s an idiot and this is a stupid exercise, and surely there’s a more productive, creative, enjoyable way with which to start my mornings?

But it’s been more than five years now and I’ve missed perhaps five days. The Morning Pages have given me three novels. Renegotiated most of my existing relationships, opened me to new ones. They are saving me, keeping me anchored to life and why I want to live it during this latest, shittiest chapter of my life.

They work.

They work, very very well, for writers.

Julia prescribes them for everyone.

The question, asked by a woman I don’t really see, but the top of whose head suggests she might have African roots, is this:

“The Morning Page tool is so powerful. But it’s all about writing. Is there way for people or cultures without writing traditions, to use it?

Julia answers it like a 71-year-old white woman.

The first part of her answer is ok. She says that she’s a writer and she comes at this process from that lens and she doesn’t have any experience elsewhere.

Would that she just stopped there, it would be ok.

But she doesn’t. Her next sentiment, communicated as much by tone as actual words, comes across as, “I’m not interested in making my tools work for non-writing cultures.”

Bang. Ouch. Wah.

I can’t tell if the woman asking the question is African or indigenous—she’s far, the room is crowded, I’m blind (I meet her later, she’s a Canadian with Jamaican parentage), but OMFG, Julia, how could you?

Well.

She’s no goddess, she’s no hero, she’s blinded by her class and her privilege, and she’s a product of her time.

She’s also a product of her culture, which has over-privileged writing as a cultural and communication form almost since it invented it.

And it’s so weird, really if you think about it at all.

This urge to write shit down. Not even important shit. Just… anything that happens to you. Or crosses your mind. Imagined shit. Stories about robots and unicorns and alternate universes. Murders that didn’t happen. Love affairs that go right or wrong—but that don’t actually exist.

How weird is that?

Nothing natural, inevitable about any of it, right?

What would all we writers be doing if we were born into a pre-literate age?

We would be… story tellers. Song makers. Poem reciters.

Writing is a tool, a technology, a cultural invention we use to express, communicate both the very mundane (“Sold three sheep for two wheat barrels”; “Pick up toilet paper and eggs on your way home, will you love?”) and the absolutely divine…

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”

― Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

The Morning Pages are magical for writers. My non-writing son finds a similar peace and cleansing when he runs. His father finds it in meditation (which Cameron near-dismisses during the workshop, wilfully misunderstanding what it is that happens in meditation—“You meditate until you push the problem away,” she says—as most failed meditators and non-meditators do).

My great-grandmother found it in prayer or the rosary.

I find it in the Morning Pages.

But that doesn’t mean everyone will, everyone should.

Julia. You too old to be open-minded?

Sigh.

My last moment of pain comes when Julia wants to talk about God. She’s a highly spiritual person and this, and her highly personal relationship with an anthropomorphic God the Creator, God the Artist permeates all her work. It is another point of contention between us. I’ve had to “get over” Julia’s god thing to work through her books. Don’t laugh. It’s possible. You can read both the New Testament and the Q’ran for life lessons and reject the existence of both Jesus’s God the Father and Muhammad’s Allah. Ditto the Vedas and the Upanishads. You can learn from the Bhagavad Ghita without praying to Krishna, you know?

Siddhartha Gautama, the “first” Buddha, figured it out—he also realized the average person needs God and I don’t expect he’s surprised either by his own deification or the veneration of Boddhisatvas and statues that make some schools of Buddhism look as theatrical as Roman Catholicism. But I digress, yet again. Point: Julia loves God and trusts that he’s running the show.

I think it’s… well, now, occasionally, I think it’s nice. Why not? Whatever gets you through the days and keeps you sober. But I can’t join her there. Not even because, Syrian civil war, genocide in Rwanda, the Jewish Holocaust, and also, the disease my daughter is battling. Just because… it seems so infantile.

Fake.

In the workshop, we first deconstruct, as a group, the idea of god we grew up with. I’m silent. I’ve put the pedophiliac “You are born in sin and you will die in sin” anthropomorphic, misogynist God the Father of my childhood religion away a long time ago. So I think, anyway. Many of the people in the group though had a similar experience. They share it. I don’t understand why anyone would worship, deify, believe in such an entity past the age of reason. Well. I do. Children are impressionable, life is uncertain.

Worship is seductive.

 

Next, Julia wants us to construct a joyous God the Creator, God the Artist. “What sort of God do you, as an artist, want?” she asks. “Let’s make him!” The room enters into the exercise enthusiastically. I’m silent again. I think making art to celebrate a thing that doesn’t exist is, while not as evil as making war in the name of a thing that doesn’t exist (“She was a virgin mother!” “No, she wasn’t!” “He was the son of God!” “No, he was just a prophet of God!”) is just as pointless.

But because I’m not busy building false deity, I am looking inward, and when I look inward, the “Why? to what purpose?” question inevitably looms large.

And because “it’s god’s plan” is not an answer available to me, I must find the answer myself, in myself.

This is hard to do when one is empty…

Julia ends the section, and the workshop, by asking us to first, write a letter from ourselves to this god we create, and then a response from him. (Yes, it’s a him. Of course, no gender neutral pronouns for Julia. We don’t get into it. But I feel we would fight about that too. Anyway, I don’t think she’s thought about it very deeply. Her god has a definite, also material penis. Or so I think as I seethe at her. I told you. I don’t like her. This is not a hagiography.)

At the beginning of the workshop, she introduces us to two characters who will accompany us on the journey, the Tyrant and the Rebel.

The Tyrant is also, I think, the Inner Critic. My Aunt Augusta. “Your list of five imaginary lives is so stupid.” “See, you couldn’t come up with 25 things that you love. I knew you wouldn’t be able to do it, because you suck. You’re stupid.”

The Rebel says, “The teacher is so stupid. Why is she making us do this shit?”

My Rebel is rising, but as I have done since I’ve first started working with Julia five years ago, I acknowledge that she, the Rebel, is absolutely right—but we’re going to do this stupid exercise anyway.

I write:

Dear Creativity God,

You don’t exist because, well, you don’t. I don’t believe in you, or ghosts. But Julia Cameron exists—she is very real, right here, and I believe in her. And in myself. And I believe—most of the time—that my urge to create, to write, to put all these stories down on paper is a worthwhile one. It’s important to bear witness. To document.

Look at that. This is how Jesus and the Buddha became gods.

Julia calls time. Now, it’s time for the Creativity God to write back.

Jesus.

For three minutes, I need to write in the voice of something I don’t believe in, that doesn’t exist. Fun.

Fine.

When I commit to doing something, I do it.

I write.

Yes, M., you’re absolutely right. It’s important to bear witness, to document, to interpret, even. How did you put it in that love letter to your crew? To make sense of the world and share it with other people. Not everyone can see either the whole, or the unique angle with which you can illuminate the most ordinary experience. And so, yes. Believe in your urge and in yourself and in its value. Believing in me is not necessary. Unlike Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I exist whether you believe in me or not.

Well, fuck what the hell is this?

I hate Julia Cameron.

I love Julia Cameron.

Both statements are true. That’s dialectics, that’s where all the best ideas happen.

(Note to self: re-read American Gods soon. I love Neil Gaiman. But it’s his wife Amanda Palmer who is, occasionally, my teacher.)

We give Julia Cameron a standing ovation to close the day and then, I end up at dinner with three other fascinating attendees, including the woman who asked the question about non-literate people and cultures. (She’s brilliant, Julia, working on a doctorate on how we can use art to heal trauma—you really should have paid more attention to what was behind her question).

We de-brief, dissect. I am very pleased to find myself talking with critical thinkers, not mindless acolytes.

I love Julia, I hate Julia—I think the reason my work with The Artist’s Way has been so fruitful for me is because I fight with Julia, argue with her almost every step of the way. Resist and then surrender, for a little while. Fight some more, grow some more.

She is my most beloved Teacher.

Thank you, Janice Sarich, for giving me this time with her.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS In case you forgot where we started: John Cleese + Sherlock Holmes = The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977). Give it at least 13 minutes before giving up. The 1970s were a different time: people still expected/accepted awkward foreplay in their books and films.

Escape from the ashram (an entirely misleading title, but not really)

I.

This was last week:

This was two years ago:

This was seven years ago:

(And fourteen years ago, there was just one of them, and it was all harder, because it was new.)

You send me this:

and we laugh. But then I think… no. No, actually, that’s wrong. For me, anyway. See, without the children, I wouldn’t have written any of the work that really matters to me—the books, the best blog posts, the articles that captured the tension inherent in all aspects of business and life (especially for women, especially for mothers).

More—before children, I did not know how to love. I did not understand what suffering really was.

There’s a quote I’ve intermittently encountered (I haven’t been able to track it back to its source, my apologies) along the nasty lines that for a woman writer, every child is a lost book. It has always made me bridle, and today, I would like to officially say to that originator of the quote and everyone who has since repeated it, as an excuse it keep herself silent: So. Fucking. Wrong.

I do get why they say it, you know. Why they might even believe it. We live in a culture that hasn’t figured out how to value women, motherhood, or creativity—International Women’s Day, the still-enduring lip-service to the Victorian Cult of Motherhood, and adoration of WEALTHY and FAMOUS musicians, painters, and authors notwithstanding. Being a woman-mother-creator is much more difficult in a patriarchy (we’re still one) than being a man-father-creator. Our burden is bigger. And, we’re not supposed to—we’re terrified of being—selfish.

II.

Ender is playing a Lego.com video game on Sean’s laptop at the kitchen table while I sit beside him and work on mine. Flora comes in, to the soundtrack of a Harry Potter audio book. Groggy-eyed, she asks for a kiss and French toast; I ask for fifteen more minutes.

When Cinder trundles down the stairs before noon—well, probably after—I will thank him for doing the dishes before going to bed at 3 a.m. And stand on my tiptoes to kiss his chin, because I can no longer reach his forehead unless he stoops.

And then I will tell him I’ve found a way for him to earn the $50 that’s his heart desire right now.

III.

I don’t actually want to write about the difference between selfishness and self-care (and, more importantly, self-actualization). A. Everyone else is doing it and B. It’s not a paradigm I’m going to shift in that particular way (I have another plan, but it’s a secret, sssshhhh). Instead, I want to tell you how important it is for me that my work be rooted in this messy, crazy, unpredictable, demanding FULL life. In this kitchen. In this family. In this community that throws an extra obligation at me just as I need to hit a critical deadline. In… reality.

Not in an ivory tower or the isolation of a writer’s retreat or an ashram.

Instead: in this child’s need to crawl into my lap at the precise moment that I need both hands to type and all my faculties focused on what it is I am trying to put into words.

Jane: Ender, I love you, but get out of my lap.

Ender: I love you more, and I need Mommy cuddles now.

On some level, I have been fighting this for the past three years. It was three—three-and-a-half, coming up on four!—years ago that I realized the nature of my work had to change. Before, it was enough to me that I was writing for a living. How lucky was I? Writing for a living, and able to be the primary caregiver for my children. Supporting my family, fulfilling my need to be a writer, and being the mother I needed, wanted to be. What more did I need?

Well, as it turns out… there was some stuff… but that’s probably a novel in itself, or even a hefty self-help book (that one of you can write; as I’ve said, I have other plans).

During that transitional time, I spent a lot of time dreaming of month-long writers’ retreats and week-long conferences and government-funded residencies… I substituted them with occasional weekends alone in hotel rooms (or friends’ apartments) and self-created 12-hour writing marathons in cafes and sheesha lounges. I was chasing “the time and space” to really do my work, to give to it the attention and care it deserved—to give it the sort of focused attention I like to give my family… without, of course, short-changing my family…

…but there was only so much time to go around, right?

And so… a fight…

In the last few weeks, something has shifted.

I have long been able to see the value in this tension between the demands of my kids and the demands of my work. Before 2013, though, the demands of my work were mostly externally created. You know? Editor. Client. Magazine deadline. For the past three years—they have been increasingly, and now almost completely, internal. The drive to create, to make, to write this stuff—it’s all mine. It’s nobody else’s fault, demand, responsibility. I want to—I need to do this.

And now I see the tension between my desires and my life’s demands is not just valuable—it’s also critical. Necessary. Essential—it’s who I am, it’s the reason I write what I write.

And what I want to do going forward is not to alleviate this tension, but to continue to grow how my work comes from my life—how I perform it in the middle of life.

Now—this does not mean that I will not make focused time and space for it. I need that 12-hour marathon at least twice a month. That occasional weekend away is part of an equation that then lets me work in hour-long, 15-minute increments the rest of the time. And the week-long writers’ conference—it’s a gift I will continue to give myself whenever I can.

But it’s what I do on the ordinary days, full of mess and chaos and conflicting demands and dentists’ appointments and children fighting and supper burning and “fuck, we’re out of groceries again, am I a bad mother if they eat cereal for supper? Wait—they can’t even do that, because there is no milk” that determines what I make, how I create it… why I write it… and who I am.

This is a good feeling.

I hope it lasts.

III.

This is today:

xoxo

“Jane”

PS This is a disclaimer to mothers of babies and toddlers: My children are aged fourteen, twelve, and seven. They can get their own breakfast. And lunch. The elder two routinely make supper. Everyone’s old enough to do their own laundry, run a vacuum cleaner, take out the garbage and the recycling. There are no little people sucking on my nipples or needing me to change their poopy diapers. The amount of time that I have to give to my work now compared with what I had seven years ago is exponentially bigger.

Like… I can’t even express how much bigger. When they were little, real work only occurred when another adult could tend to their needs, or when they were asleep.

And they so very rarely all slept at the same time.

But all that time—it was like compost, fertilizer, seeds. This time, this current place of—I don’t even know how to express where I am, because it’s not a place of tranquility at all… it’s a place of explosive creativity and drive and celebration of tension, it is so many things, but tranquil, yeah, not so much—this current place-space I’m in has been created by journeying through the demands and exhaustion and challenges of the baby years and the toddler years and all those “I thought it was supposed to get easier, when the fuck is that going to happen” years.

I am still, to be honest, not sure that it gets easier. Parenting, I mean. It’s gets… different. And we get… better (or, in some cases, worse, but that’s also another story).

PS2 POSTCARDS IN CUBA, the final leg, you won’t get to see until the fall or so. Because this final leg of the postcards is very, very different… and I want to deliver it properly. And that takes time. This, incidentally, another shift: I have all the time I need—and I refuse to give myself Internet/social-media induced FOMO/YOLO/DO IT RIGHT NOW! psychosis.

Because… priorities, baby.

PS3 Sometimes, I think Maria Popova and I share a brain: Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence 

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

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-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.

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nbtb-wafaa bilal at esker

The price of flow

I.

JaneAusten6

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

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

I’m totally bragging.

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

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

II.

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

Don’t stop. 25 minutes. Fingers dancing.

Now—stop.

You should have 500 words.

Now cut it down to 250…

Stop whining.

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

You’re welcome.

NBTB-Exhausted Blogger

III.

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry. Are we still friends?

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

Cinder: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”

Jane: “Again?”

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

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

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

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

Flora: “No! I love mustard.”

So. We suffer.

Because we love her.

That be life…

V.

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

Ender: “There’s nothing else to eat!”

Sean: “Oh, come on. There’s also…”

A pickle.

Ender eats it.

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

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

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

Jane: “Where should we put this?”

Sean: “Um…”

It’s currently the centerpiece of our kitchen table.

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

VI.

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

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

Jane: “Then look in my eyes instead.”

VII.

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

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

NBTB-Meditation for writers

VIII.

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

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

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

Jane: “Because it was there?”

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

Jane: “Mice. Ants.”

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

I transfer the sugar into it.

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

Cinder’s Crystal Meth.

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

IX.

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

This is achievable.

Right?

Right.

Wrong.

I don’t know.

Help.

nbtb-sleeping while i work

X.

Flora brings macaroons from baking camp.

Oh, yes.

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

Flora: “That good?”

Jane: “That good.”

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

Mine! All mine!

XI.

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

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

Jane: “Coffee?”

You: “Champagne?”

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

Life.

 

xoxo,

“Jane”

PS.

You: “That made very little sense.”

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

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

 

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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*

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:

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… 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.

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*

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”

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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?”

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”

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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”

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

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

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

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

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.