vendredi 16 mai 2014

The Elephant

Days and days and months pass and still no sign of writing on this blog. To be honest, I've switched platforms. I created an account on the French website and I try to write there semi-regularly. It's not for anyone to read - more like the 21st century version of a diary - but it keeps me writing. And, maybe, hopefully, something more tangible and public will come out of those private scribbles at some point, when I'm good and ready. Because, right now, anything worth writing for me is private and needs to remain private, to a certain extent.

These past few months have been challenging and will continue to be, as my mom is undergoing cancer treatment. She's okay - the tumor was removed surgically and, as far as anyone can see, the cancer's gone. But, of course, chemotherapy is still required and that, in itself, is a painful process. It's all about taking it day by day, one step at a time, as the doctors say. We'll follow their prescription.
 I've hesitated long and hard about writing here. I hope my mother, who's my number one blog reader, won't be offended or think that I'm disclosing too much information.

That's the catch when you end up talking about yourself and your life on a blog. It's all well and good when things are going relatively ok. But, when, as the expression goes, "life throws you a curveball", you have to make a decision: to write about the said curveball or not to write about it all. You could throw up your emotional guts for the world to read (you won't be the first one) or you could refrain and keep to yourself.

My problem is that I can't seem to move on and write another post on here until I've named the elephant in the room and waved it hello. I wish I could compartmentalize things in a more efficient way: family health concerns in one little box, safe writing topics in another completely unrelated little box, work issues in yet another place, etc. But my mind doesn't function that way. It's all a big tangled net. And the act of writing untangles some of the knots, releases some of the material and helps to expand the net's workable surface.

Let's face it: this elephant is on my mind, and it's hard to ignore it. But I won't dwell on it here either. I've said what was going on, it's there for all to read and I no longer have the lingering feeling of lying through omission. So now I can move on and pursue the conversation on a wide range of topics.

jeudi 20 mars 2014

La danse et le piano

Il y a des fois où la vie joue de sales tours. Elle chamboule tout: place au branle-bas de combat et tout le tintouin de soucis qui va avec.

Dans ces cas-là, quand tout ne va pas comme il faudrait, je sais, désormais, que je peux compter sur...  la danse et le piano. La danse, le mardi et le piano, le vendredi, c'est bien réparti. 

L'apaisement grâce à la pratique physique, intransigeante, instinctive. L'attention qu'il faut accorder à la technique, lâcher prise face aux ennuis. Ce qui importe en cours de danse et de piano, ce n'est rien d'autre que la respiration, les corps, les mains et la musique. 

Les profs m'accompagnent, animés de la passion de la transmission. Ils sourient, conseillent, encouragent. Je les connais peu, mais nous sommes unis par le thème qui nous amène. 

Pour ces moments de plaisir, figés dans l'instant régi par l'art, je leur rends leurs sourires. Pour ces minutes attrapées, dédiées à la recherche de la justesse, je les remercie.  Et le cœur plus léger, le pas plus élancé, des idées plein la tête, je repars, pour mieux revenir.  

jeudi 23 janvier 2014

January isn't over yet, so... a belated post about resolutions

There's a blogpost about New Year's resolutions that I started writing at the beginning of January with the intention of posting it for all to see. And then, it landed in the "unfinished" folder.

 Resolutions can be hot air intentions. When January 1rst comes around, I think: "why, yes! Of course! I must write the masterpiece of my life this year!". It then dawns on me that such a project would require tremendous work, great emotional availability, iron discipline and probably last more than a year. So I scale down to "maybe if I wrote posts on my blog more often, that would be a good start..." or "maybe if I wrote every day for an hour, that would be the starting point for writing projects to develop". These thoughts sound more reasonable and may happen. Hopefully.

Although they're fickle, resolutions still have a special place in my heart. They make me pause and think about what I need to do to feel more in tune with who I am on a daily basis. Resolutions help me dream about projects and think about what it takes to accomplish those dreams. I wouldn't like resolutions if none of them came to fruition, if they were all full of hot air and nothing else. Fortunately, there are some wishful thoughts that amount to concrete results when they're taken seriously. From being ideas, they become actions. 

Two very classic resolutions have nagged at me this year: weight loss and exercise.  At first, I thought that they were of the "hot-air" type and that I would soon forget about them, go back to my old habits and not worry too much until next year (or this summer). But fortunately, I have been listening to myself. And I'm starting to change little things, really small things, that could lead me in the right direction. I try to be a bit more aware of what I eat and when, I drink more water and I will start going to a dance class next week. That's it. That's all I can do right now, and I don't intend on doing a smoothie detox or running every day. But eating more thoughtfully and dancing, that I can do.

I've also been realizing that I have possibly benefited from other people's resolutions. In early January, a friend called and asked if we were  available to go for a walk in the woods. Before calling us, this friend may have been thinking about the New Year and what it implied. She perhaps formulated a few thoughts like: "this year, I want to see friends more often" and "this year, I want to go for walks in nature". This may have led her to pick up her phone, which in turn led us to leave our cosy appartments and have a great time. We came across a lake and saw flocks of geese, ducks, water hens and even a heron and a cormorant!

I like seeing wishes becoming intentional acts. So here's to a New Year filled with great intentional actions!

... and, more blogposts.


mercredi 6 novembre 2013

The Kid's Menu

      I was recently walking down a Paris street at a brisk pace and happened to glance at a sign etched on a restaurant window: Menu Enfant, - 12 ans, 8 euros 50. This was no extraordinary sight, but it brought me back to a decisive moment in my childhood: the day I stopped choosing from the kids menu to delve into the uncertain world of à la carte options.

      We were at a big family dinner in a restaurant on the East Coast. I want to say it was a steak house in the DC suburbs, but those are purely speculative details. I was between 10 and 12 years old, still allowed to order a children's meal but verging on independence and free choice. We had been seated, icy water had been poured in our red plastic glasses and we were all armed with the literature we needed to make informed decisions. The conversation about what to eat had begun among the adults. My uncle was recommending a dish he had previously tasted while my aunt warned the other guests on the generous sizes of portions in this particular establishment. My mother was voicing her hesitation between two appetizing alternatives. I felt close to each family member as they gave their opinion and disclosed what would please them to eat that day.
      I turned to the kids menu. It stared back at me, inevitably proving to be what it had always been : mind-numbingly boring. What, exactly, was listed in that miserable corner of the oversized menu, I can't recall. It might have been a plain hamburger with no fancy toppings or, worst, the monochrome chicken-tenders-and-fries. Since we were in the 1990s, I doubt that a vegetarian option was listed;  if there was one, I'd bank on either mac n cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich.

      Besides, the finality of the kids menu was an insult to my creativity. I wanted to engage in that colorful discussion around food and moods, combining the right cuisine with my current emotional state. Was I feeling adventurous or needing reassurance? Would I venture towards the uncharted territory of baked clams or the satisfying earthiness of steak and a baked potato? I wanted a chance to know what it felt like to have a "memorable meal", and picking from the kid's section wasn't going to cut it.
      When I voiced my wish to dive in the deep end, my mother fully supported my decision and suggested items I would enjoy. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with the satisfaction that came with opportunity: I could, if I so desired, taste the house crab-cakes instead of the chicken! I looked back at my menu, this time with great curiosity, ready to embrace the diversity of what was offered.

      That's when I noticed something, which I had largely managed to ignore until then: distracting numeric symbols following each dish name. I tried avoiding looking at them and focused instead on the delicious sounding words like "pie à la mode", "sirloin steak" or "blackened cod". But, eventually, the numbers caught up with me and I could no longer fool myself. Granted, I wasn't the one footing the bill, but there was a significant difference between a 10$ all-inclusive deal and a 20$ entrée. Could I decently justify costing so much more to the table? I was just a lanky kid compared to the robust family members surrounding me, and even compared to my sister, who was 3 years older and already a teenager. Was I being a spoiled brat, going beyond my condition and demanding fancier food? No one at the table seemed to think so. And,  if I had voiced such a concern, I would have been greeted with words of encouragement to "try anything you like" or "whatever you want on the menu is fine". But I remained silent, quietly determining which plate had the best value, aside from the dreaded kid's section.
     I've been compensating like that ever since, dinner after dinner, searching for the perfect balance between quality and thrift. I decode the labels, I see which ingredient has been chosen, I decide which dish really is the tastiest and which one is mainly for show. Thanks to this tried and true method,  I've been complimented many times on my savvy choices.

       But maybe, just once, I could throw all caution to the wind and decide to eat what I truly, really want at that time, in that place. And on that day, a little girl who looks very familiar would be sitting right next to me, eyes narrowed.  She'd study the menu purposefully and then she'd look up and ask: "are you sure we can?" And I'd say: "don't worry, just this time, we're going for it".  She'd smile and I'd hear her belly gently rumble in anticipation. 

jeudi 3 octobre 2013

A week-end in Paris

Every once in a while, I feel overtaken by a stronger emotion, one that decides to leave the warm confines of my dormant subconscious and tickle the surface of my psyche. This happened recently.  I felt a rush of sentimentality and tenderness mixed with a lucid flash of understanding:  "this might be what it's all about".

I didn't think that my great aunt's visit would trigger such feelings, but it did, as I watched her rediscover Paris at 85 years old. She had left her cozy Breton town, Douarnenez, to meet us in the hustle and bustle of the capital for a long week-end to celebrate my sister's thirtieth birthday.

I've visited my great aunt regularly over the last few years, so I know that she still has a lot of stamina and physical endurance. Yet she herself wasn't fully confident that she could keep up the rhythm for a week-end away. She finally decided to try it and see what would happen. I'm so glad she did. Seeing her in Paris going about her days with such grace and poise was dazzling. Spending time with her was a revitalizing break, an opportunity to see the every-day in a renewed light.

On the evening of her first day,  she got caught in a big traffic jam with my mom and had to sit in the car for two hours. But it didn't make much of a dent on her enthusiasm. Listening to her talk about Paris, it seemed like dense traffic and crowds had graduated from being annoying nuisances to convenient conversation topics, just like the weather is in Brittany. These were parts of the Paris reality and there was no need to fight them - simply acknowledge them, avoid them whenever possible and carry on. 

I had been used to fretting over older family members and worrying about their well-being. As much as my great aunt appreciated our thoughtfulness, she didn't need us to make huge efforts. If she felt like she couldn't walk up a hill, she said it and we found a way around the hill. But there was no complaining, which was very refreshing and encouraged us to simply enjoy the ride with her. She accepted her vulnerability, she fully acknowledged her age and her constraints but used none of those things as excuses.

What was most enchanting was that she didn't hide her joy of being there. Through her smile and some of her expressions, we knew she was having a great time. It's amazing how good that feels: seeing someone else being happy. How does that even work?  We often heard her say things like "c'est vraiment formidable", or "c'est magnifique", as we dined on a river boat and admired the lit monuments from the Seine.

I feel very fortunate to have walked the streets of Montmartre with one arm hooked to hers. It gave me a chance to vividly perceive the incline of those streets, to walk at a different pace and to savor the moment in a novel way. I was genuinely excited for her grandkids when she bought two Eiffel Tower key chains and some Eiffel tower shaped candy. I was very touched when she bought two boxes of chocolates at the airport and handed me one with a big smile, saying it was for me to share with my boyfriend.

The stronger feeling I mentioned earlier took a hold of me when I saw her walk towards the security gate at the airport. She had her back at me; her trendy bag was hanging from her shoulder and she was pulling her small suitcase with one hand while holding her ticket and ID in the other. She looked small but a lot younger than her age, perhaps because she hadn't lost her confident gait. Every part of her - the way she walked, the way she looked at people around her - seemed to say that it was time to go after a good time spent.

She arrived at the security check point, smiled at the guard and showed him her card identifying her as carrying a pacemaker. For some reason, they opened her suitcase. She cooperated, they made her pass through the door next to the metal detector. Like everyone else, she was patted down by a female officer. She gathered her bags, went towards her terminal and was out of sight.

 I stood there, taking in the reality of the moment, letting the emotion build up because it seemed wrong to suppress it. And then I made my way back to the heart of the city.

mardi 3 septembre 2013

My Thoughts on the Show "Girls"

I have been watching episodes of Girls, a series airing on HBO about 20-something girls in New York. It's edgy and raw, but the second season has been annoying me a bit - actually, a lot. In the first season, it was easy to think that all these sweet, privileged, middle-class white kids were a little lost and needed some time to adjust both to New York and to adult life. But, at this point, it simply appears that they're self-involved, whiny and tediously self-destructive.
Anything good happens to them? They discount the experience as trivial.
Screwed up people enter their lives? They welcome them with open arms.

The main character, Hannah, is a would-be writer. You'd think that she'd be able to reflect on her life through her writing, and yet, she demonstrates very little self-awareness. The world devours her without her taking any responsibility, having any control or the least bit of clairvoyance.  What makes it irritating is that, I, as the viewer, am convinced that she could be happy, that she could succeed, if she stopped being so annoyingly self-conscious for one second. Because, really, Hannah is not a victim. She could stop the bullshit in her life, if she chose to (but then, there would be no show).

I do wonder, as a 20-something myself... are these people supposed to be my peers? I'll fully admit that I'm privileged and that there are many things that I take for granted. But watching these people abandon themselves in deceit is disturbing. Does the show imply that all these characters will "turn out okay" by the time they're 30? Strangely, I don't think that being a dramatic egotist in your 20s bodes well for the rest of your life. We've got to stop collectively treating this decade as a giant self-destructive/ let-me-be-an-asshole time frame where people can feel legitimate in being selfish. Although I fully support experimentation and making mistakes, it seems like these characters believe it's their duty to do all these screwed-up actions, just to feel like they're living an alternative lifestyle. But there's nothing revolutionary about snorting cocaine or having sex with a bunch of men, for that matter. And is it really necessary to do these things to feel like you have valuable life experience?

Maybe I'm getting older and - I don't know... more sour? bitter? Not "hip" anymore? But I don't have a lot of patience for those girls' antics, not because of my moral beliefs over something specific (the casual sex, for instance, doesn't offend me) but because of the utter lack of generosity between the characters. Ok, so you're "learning how to live" and that's fine. But where's your sense of solidarity? You're all in this together and you're all hurting. It might be beneficial - just throwing an idea out there - for all of you to help each other out! 
I'm aware that I'm yelling at characters from a sitcom. And this sitcom is possibly trying to say something more profound by depicting the behavior of these said characters. But I'm still at the annoyed stage, where I throw my pillow at the screen and I yell profanities because most of these kids on that show are being so silly and stupid, and it hurts to watch.

So Girls is getting a reaction from me. I'm the show's target audience and I'm hooked. But I'm also really frustrated. I don't like seeing my generation portrayed that way, but I know that some of it is true. But I also know that there are so many people my age doing very interesting, truly innovative, fulfilling things. They're often insecure, uncertain, they make mistakes but they're trying to go beyond the cliché and lay the foundation for their lives.
Maybe these girls (and guys) are, too. I'll have to keep on watching, finish season 2 and tell you what I think about season 3...

lundi 26 août 2013

Writing more and being less complacent

I need to start writing again. I've felt the urge for a while, but, of course, I've been fighting it. Why do we (read - I) tend to fight off things that are good for us?

It's been a summer full of changes and heavy lifting. The beginning of the school year bodes well, with exciting prospects and renewed energy. Just as long as I keep my anxiety levels in check... just as long as I act on the things I wish to do... which brings me back to writing.

It calms me down. It gets me to think without stressing out. It makes me feel like time has a consistency. When I write, I never feel like I'm wasting my time.

At this point, it may not even be about writing anything relevant. It may simply be about renewing with the practice. After all, I can't expect to write astonishingly well when I've been  neglecting the art.

I went rollerblading a few days ago, and I was surprised by two things: I was happy to find that I still knew how to roll, but I had lost my elegant stride and I didn't know how to stop neatly at crosswalks anymore. It had been 10 years since I hadn't rollerbladed - loss of elegance and clumsiness to be expected.

I'll take it one step at a time. I'll try to re-engage with my creative side. I need to do it now - before I forget that I even ever had the desire to create things. Before I let myself be convinced by society at large that working to make a living is really only what matters. Before life gets away from me and becomes something I don't recognize as my own.

These aren't very cheery thoughts, and I'm not even saying that I'm close to forgetting who I am. But there is always the risk of complacency:  feeling a bit too comfortable in a life where creative expectations are low. That's one of the challenges when you end up working in a different field - time and energy are split, so there's more to balance.

I've recently started sharing ideas for theatre projects with a friend and colleague. It's such a pleasure to jam on projects and create proposals. It's also nice to work with someone else instead of being alone thinking about an idea. It doesn't harm that we both enjoy each other's company.

In order to collaborate well together, we needed time to know each other. I needed to get settled and figure myself out in Paris. So there is something to be said about taking one's time, too. But there's a difference between taking one's time and stopping altogether to think creatively. Although, sometimes, those two things look very much the same.  So I'll watch out, I'll be vigilent. And if I stray, I hope that there will be some people out there to keep me on the right track by suggesting new ideas and collaborations.