Sunday, August 31, 2003

Sunday morning and I'm up before the sun. While the rest of my family and most in this time zone are curled happy in sleep, I am happy alone in my little house in the garden. I love these early hours. Time passes too quickly but still I seldom feel its restraints in these hours.

Last night, the night of the hoedown is a blur of images. I admit this is partly due to the wine I drank. It worked its magic too quickly because I am having a hard time knowing what to eat these days. My family are all on a low or no carb diet and without bread, potatoes, rice, or pasta, I am lost about what to feed myself. Fruits and vegetables only go so far with me. But then again, I find food the distinguishing feature between cultures and am always confused when I leave one and enter another.

Did I see this or dream this?
Last night, Mike standing on a stage in a crowded restaurant, cowboy hat on head, microphone in hand, two voluptuous young women to his right, belting out country and western. "Mama Don't Let Your Babies, Grow Up to be Cowboys" kept running through my brain. He look self-assured. He sounded good.
Earlier, Rob and I going to Helen's and meeting some old and new friends of Helen's. Me lashing out at Rob because I heard him say that I was irritable: I hadn't eaten. I was irritable. It came to me, at that moment, that although I had sympathy for him working insane hours in unpleasant conditions, he had no sympathy for me returning from France. I yelled that although it may sound exotic - Paris and southern France and doing what I wanted - I had worked hard, was exhausted, and was having difficulty adjusting. I shocked myself. Where did that angry voice come from? I fear I sounded like a bitch. And then again, I have never pretended to be perfect.
Rob and I wandering through family-filled Dundarave Village - were we holding hands? - with Helen and friends, eating sweet corn on the cob, and then sitting in Kim's fish restaurant. Everyone had an oyster burger (bread!) but it didn't appeal to me. (What did I want?) I even refused wine.
Meeting Colin and Maura and Pina who joined us in the restaurant bar (where Mike was singing?) and Maura telling me that Eva had been looking for me. I was supposed to be watching over Leslie's girls. This was the first I'd heard of it. I am to call her when I return home this afternoon.
Returning to Helen's, returning home, climbing into bed is a vague memory.

I am meeting Marlene this morning on Granville island and then my plums at Kits Beach. After I will pick up my eldest son and bring him back to the house. For the first time in a number of years, the family will be together. I am looking forward to this day.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

My mind is a blank this morning. Mike woke me at 3 a.m. or at some ungodly hour, looking for the taxi card to pay the driver waiting outside. (I, in my need to re-establish some order in the house, had gone around the various rooms collecting all the paper clutter, including stray cards, putting all into a basket to sort through later.) We couldn't find the card. I didn't have the money and so ended up throwing a coat on and paying the driver with my Visa card. By the time I'd solved the problem, I was thoroughly awake. I went out to my house in the garden, answered emails and wonder of wonders, worked a little on the opening to my novel. By 9 a.m. I was thoroughly drained and went back to bed and slept a couple of hours.

At 11 a.m. I made a coffee and sat outside with Rob at the picnic table. We discussed my beautifully pregnant baby sister, Bev, who visited last night with her children, Liam and Hannah. We went to Dundarave Beach for a picnic (Mike and Gill came too although Mike left early) and while Gill entertained the children in the sand, Bev and I talked about family. Bev is quite lovely. At 5'6" she is the tallest female in my nuclear family, and is always immaculately groomed and dressed in designer fashion. She and her spouse who is a G.P. own two medical clinics that offer not only medical services but laser hair removal and beauty treatments including botox (?) injections.

Rob and I then moved on to a discussion about growing old gracefully. Rob who has worked with movie stars for countless years and seen too many surgically smooth bland faces is against any "youth treatment". I agree but admit that sometimes, on bad days, I look in the mirror and despair. I don't want my life written over my face. I don't like how repeated expression has etched fine lines under my eyes and around my mouth. I dislike what gravity is doing to my body. Colette wrote that she was relieved to be in her fifties: she no longer had to worry about spending hours making herself beautiful or fending off the advances of men. She felt liberated.
On my good days, I feel liberated too but not for the same reasons as Colette. And at times, I even feel beautiful. I think I need to see this reflected, even hear that I am not deluding myself. Is this small of me? I think what I fear most, and I told Rob, is that I will continue to desire and not be desirable. I am not alone. I have heard more than one woman over the last few weeks, in vulnerable moments, say that she feels unlovable, that she feels unattractive and I am astonished because it seems to me most often - although not always - that the women who are the most attractive and lovable - are the ones who despair.

I do go on and on. It is now 2:30 in the afternoon and I will shower and perhaps go for a walk with Rob or pick up groceries. This evening, we are meeting Helen and friends and going to a hoedown in Dundarave Village. I plan to show my cowgirl leanings. I'll tie a bandana around my neck and if perchance, a group happens to be line-dancing, I'll tuck my fingers in my jeans and show what I learned in Northern Ireland.

Friday, August 29, 2003

I am still adjusting to the time zone. I was so tired yesterday early evening that I lay down and slept for two hours, woke, Mike made me a salad, slept again, and woke when Rob came home around 2 a.m. raging because he starts at 3 p.m. today. This means that he probably won't be home until 6 a.m. tomorrow and his Saturday is lost to sleep.

I went to sleep again. This morning, I woke for the first time to daylight and followed my usual routine of making a coffee and coming down to my writing house. I am so full of thought and tried to capture some with a proprioceptive 25 minute binge. Strange observing how thought meanders. I start with one idea that leads to another to another and end closing with a subject that is completely unrelated to beginning. I have no idea if this will prove useful when I'm in the middle of a story or not.

Speaking of stories, this morning I returned to my "French Letters" that I thought complete and entered in a contest in Northern Ireland. I altered a few sentences and intend to toss it out into the world again, probably via another literary contest. I am also looking at several other stories that I've sent out once or twice and then gave up on. I've decided to pretend that I'm confident my writing is good and deserves to see itself in print to see if I can trick myself into believing it.

I'm sitting in my little house looking out the window at an over-growth of blackberry vines ladened with fruit under a cherry tree. The bottom of our garden has been left alone to grow wild and I see that this is what I want for my writing - freedom and "wild mind" (Natalie Goldberg.) Oh dear, this may take me into corny places but what the hell. Mike and I were talking about Bren yesterday and he said that Bren should get more of his creative projects out. He's so damn good. And I thought of discussions I've had with Brendan about the problems of being a perfectionist. It's a form of arrogance in a way. If I remember correctly, neither of us are willing to send anything out into the world because it isn't perfect. We know we can do better. It's as if we want to miss the trial and error stage. The problem here is what we miss is feedback that can only enhance our work. This leads to another thought. I remember Wenda at one of our plum meetings reading a heart-wrenching story that was painful to read and hear but she insisted upon reading it aloud saying that she had to get it out to deal with it. Growth would follow.

I want this kind of growth so I've decided to be more daring. I think this has something to do with dancing on tables. This summer I saw a link between dancing tabletop and freedom of expression. Every table I brazen will further silence my inner censor.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

I woke at 1:30 a.m. when Rob returned from work. He was gone over fifteen hours. I wonder how anyone could or would want to work in the film industry. It is not the glamourous Hollywood of the silver screen that some imagine. This film, starring Judy Dench who worked for only one week of the three month shoot, has never stopped demanding hellish hours of its crew in a smoked filled studio. Rob says he's too old for this nonsense but I doubt any age would find pleasure under such conditions.

Yesterday, my second day back, I continued to nest. I don't think of myself as a neat or clean freak but I see that I do need some semblance of order and cleanliness in the house and around it. I borrowed a power hose from a neighbour and spend four hours getting the green scum off the patio. I continued to return scattered objects to their shelves or cupboards inside, and do stacks of laundry. I delivered and picked up Gill from the gym and we shopped for groceries. By early evening, I was so tired that Gill made us a dinner of steak, mushrooms and green beans and then cleaned up afterwards.

At 1:30 in the morning, Rob and I stood talking in the kitchen while Mike grilled himself a sandwich and Gill danced around the room. I like this family.

I woke again at 4:30 a.m., went out to my little house in the garden and did a stint of proprioceptive writing, drove down to the beach and sat with a coffee and scone looking over the water. What I notice most about place after Europe is the affluence here - big houses, new cars, manicured lawns, and fancy shops.

I have just returned from the dentist. A crown fell out in Paris and I thought my dentist, who is a friend, could just re-glue it. I went laden with guilt as I had stopped wearing a mouth guard after persevering three months. It never ceased feeling uncomfortable, invasive, almost repulsive. Finally I decided against being obedient and good, even if I had to bear the consequences: sleep is too precious. Now, I am told, the present consequence is that I have a missing crown that won't last if she puts it back. She is upset with me. I am upset, not with her, but with her lack of understanding. She feels that mouth guards are no big deal. I tried to explain that I am not alone in my abhorrence - my cousin in N.I. has to wear upper and lower guards and hates it. Another friend tells me she feels the same way. I just remembered that Rob has recently acquired one but has never worn it when I've been here (admittedly little this year.) I can't imagine catching a kiss while wearing it and the thought of both of us wearing guards and touching lips is too kinky. Why, I wonder, am I considered difficult because I refuse to put an appliance, a foreign object in my mouth? Okay, enough bitching.

I forgot to mention that I finished Crow Lake the morning I left Paris. I liked the main character, a woman, a biologist, who works within a university doing research and teaching. She tells the story of her parents' early death in a car crash and how this changed her life and those of her siblings. The novel also illustrates how chance and choice can play havoc with youth's dreams. The novel, written by Mary Lawson is being lauded as the next Canadian classic. I enjoyed the book and at some places in the story couldn't put it down - even when I was wandering round Paris - but in the end, I felt cheated. I wanted something more profound. I found it too ordinary an ending, not enough of a climax, to compensate for the tension experienced. I would have liked to feel the main character's epiphany more intensely. Still, it was a good read and I recommend it.

At the airport in Montreal, having nothing to read on the six hour flight to Vancouver, I bought Maeve Binchy's Quentins. There was little choice. I remember Binchy speaking at a Writer's Festival in Vancouver, saying that she is criticized for not being more high-brow. She said that she does not claim to write literature, that has never been her intention. I am not entralled so far but am curious about her style and story as she is immensely popular and has made a good living from her writing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Woke up at 4:30 this morning and felt bereft. Rob lay sleeping beside me. I got out of bed, made myself a coffee, and went out to my little house in the garden. I wrote in my journal. "I'd forgotten how much time and energy filming steals from Rob and me. When he's working, he only has thoughts for work. I imagined coming home and having time together. I imagined talking and holding each other. I imagined feeling precious. I am still alone." I have only been home one day and although I knew I was being unreasonable, I couldn't shake the blues. What does emotion have to do with reason? Several hours later, I heard Rob waking and went and sat near him on the bed. He reached up and drew me to him. That's all it took to improve my mood, to make me feel loved. Reminds me of the poem in Selected Poems by Aldan Nolan, in which a young mentally-retarded woman wants to be held. At the end of the poem, Nowlan says that that's what we all want in the end, simply to be held.

So feeling better, I called my friend Helen and told her I wanted a real Canadian breakfast. She came and we walked to Cindy's and caught up, or filled in as many details as is possible in a couple of hours, about our year apart. She said that she was glad I'd went away, that at times she missed me desperately, but was forced to fend for herself, sort herself out. I love this woman.

Now I am back home in my writing house. I will do a session of proprioceptive writing, some house work, some more writing. I will try to go easy these first few days. I will try to go easy in the days to come and not fall back into the old routine where there is never enough time. I really truly want to get on with my novel. In Paris, I jotted down some ideas about where to go with it. I want to see if they work. I am optimistic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I'm home. I'm so full of thoughts that I don't know where to begin. I woke at 3:30 a.m. which is my usual routine after being awake 24 hours and flying across nine time zones. The flights - Paris to Montreal and Montreal to Vancouver - were hellish. I hate to say it but although Air Canada is one of the safest airlines in the world, it is also one of the most unappetizing. The food and service are basic, uninspired. There are no extras, nothing to make one feel as if someone cared. I felt guilty pushing the call button and making the unsmiling flight attendant walk up the aisle to replace a nonfunctioning headset. I almost watched the movies without sound.

I was numb when I arrived but my two beautiful and very thin children, Gill and Bren were there to hug me. I started walking over to the luggage carousel when Rob jumped out from behind a post. My heart flipped. I screamed. I didn't expect to see him until well into the night. He looked good. Full grey beard. And damn it all anyway it felt wonderful to be wrapped in his arms.

We collected my two small bags (Bren commented that I don't take after my mother) and drove to a new fancy Cactus Club on Broadway for a small birthday dinner. I was so tired, I didn't know what to order and I told the waiter that I had been awake too long and had just flown from the other side of the world. Either Rob or Bren, laughed and said that I should have given him more details of my day. (Why do I think that I have to give a stranger a reason for my indecisiveness? I can see my cousin, Ken, rolling his eyes.) Ah to hell with it. I like people who give me the small detail.

Gill said that the first thing that she did when she got home was organize her room and everyone thought she was weird. This morning, I cleaned and organized the kitchen and understand that this is our way of personalizing space, of feeling at home again.

I think one always takes a chance when one leaves home for a long period of time. One changes. People at home change. I knew, when leaving, that Rob and our sons could live without me, that they would fill in the gaps, or at least some of them that I had left. I am not as important to the lives of my boys/men as I once was but Rob is a different matter. This man doesn't like sleeping alone and thinks, as I noted before, that living without one's partner is unnatural. There were moments when I was away that I despaired. "What had I done leaving him by himself so long," I thought. "He is a gentle man, an intelligent one, a sensualist. I am replaceable." Rob laughed when I told him this. "Who would want an old man." I could have hit him. I want him. I don't think of him as old. I see the changes that time has caused but I don't think them great or disagreeable. My friend, Kate, speaks of making love on the living room floor while her small son sleeps in their bed and I am envious that she can speak of sex in her public journal. I, who am so mouthy, who dances on tables, feel shy about mentioning this three letter word. Because I am too old? Because my children read my journal? Perhaps. Can't parents want the same things as their children? And children even want their parents to stay in love. They want to know that it is possible to be in a long-term relationship and still feel an attraction. Susan Swann, a Toronto author, at a writer's festival, questioned longevity in relationships, asking why is it considered superior to short-term flings and wrote a book called something like "Stupid Guys are Fun to Relax with." I think today returning to a body I know is a sweet homecoming and familiarity can be more inspiring, challenging, than novelty. One can always push oneself, open up further, and be surprised, even by one's closest friend.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Happy Birthday, Brendan.

Well, my eldest child (difficult to call a man, a child) is 25 today, a quarter of a century and today also marks the end of an eleven month sabbatical from the home front. I sit in this small artist's apartment and feel a little sad to be leaving France but happy to be going home to people I love. Someday I will tell my definition of love but not now.

Yesterday I wandered Paris. I simply walked, sat, read, walked some more, stopped for lunch at a small restaurant near the Georges Pompidou centre, walked some more, and finished at Shakespeare and Company. I had no intention of buying a book for this bookstore offers mostly classics, many from the heyday of its existence, the Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald era. I just like the atmosphere of the place.

After walking the fancy Champs Elysee in the evening, I stopped at a small Italian restaurant for dinner and then returned to the chateau to sleep. (Alberto told me this joke. The apartment is located on Rue du Chateau.)

Well now I prepare to fly into the heavens. As this is a travel journal, I can't decide whether to continue or not once I am home. It has become a daily discipline and I must admit I enjoy writing and publishing every day. If any of you have any thoughts on this subject, send them my way.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

I woke this morning in Camillo's apartment in Paris. Alone. (Paris is fine seule, even beautiful but I think walking along the Seine with a friend especially if that friend is a lover would be so much nicer. There is so much history here. And so much beauty beyond even the monuments that the country has restored and polished to attract tourists. I love the old buildings with their shutters and miniscule balconies wrapped in swirls of wrought iron. Rob and I had a wonderful time here once. I see him, in my mind's eye, sitting on a bench in the Tuilleries sleeping. We swore we would come back for a month or two.)

So I left our house in the south of France and flew into Paris Orly where a friend of Camillo's was to meet me and bring me to his apartment. The only description of the friend he gave me was that he was tall, broad shoulders, dark, and his name is Alberto. Well I looked and looked and looked to see if anyone else was looking who fit the description but I think I was invisible. Finally, I dug into my suitcase and found the telephone number for Le Restaurant Arcades. Thank goodness Camillo was working. He told me that his friend wearing a yellow t-shirt was there looking for me at Gate H. I went to Gate H. No one. I called again and told Camillo I would wait at the American Express Exchange counter opposite Gate H. No one came. I called Camillo. He said his friend was exactly where I was. I went to the information counter and the woman said that he may be at the west terminal. (I was at the south.) She asked for his mobile number. I called Camillo and he gave it to me and I, in turn, gave it to the woman and she called Alberto and told him how to find me. Two hours after arrival, I finally met Alberto, a charming young Columbian, also studying in Paris like Camillo but unlike Camillo, he does not speak English. We managed. He brought me back to the appartment, made me some Columbian coffee, and gave me a set of keys for the apartment. Although he has been living here for the summer, he said that he was going to spent the night with his uncle. I am always surprised at the generosity of strangers.

I left and wandered the streets of Paris or rather the 14th arrondisement where Camillo lives. I love this city with a passion. When I reached a metro stop, I climbed onto a train and went to the Gare Lazare near Galleries Lafayette. Gill would have hated the fact that there was only half an hour to shop. But I was determined to find a bag as the one Gill gave me of soft cloth was cutting into my shoulders and, as usual, with my journal and novel, was too heavy. I did it, Gill. I found a soft knap-sac, red, simple, neat and didn't hesitate. I then wandered some more down to the Champs Elysee but was so tired and hungry, I hopped a metro back to the 14th arrondisement, and found a simple restaurant, ate, and came back to the apartment. I slept well on a single mattress in the loft, fan blowing.

The apartment is a true bachelor's pad and reminds me of one that Rob had when I first met him. (Alberto apologized for the mess, for the stack of unwashed dishes.) There is debris everywhere. Ceiling is pealing. Bare light bulbs. Miniscule bathroom with broken sink and shower. (I have yet to try the shower.) Abstract globs of paint on the wall as well as lots of artsey sketches and pictures cut from magazines. I quite like it.

Now I must move and try and find a patisserie and cafe for coffee. I just intend to wander today. Will stop in at Shakespeare and Company. Will buy a baguette and eat in Luxemburg Gardens. (Are you jealous?) Will walk along the Seine and image Simone de Beauvoir at my side. Paris is a place for dreaming.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Yesterday is a haze. Preparing to leave is always difficult and this time more so as I've been away from home for almost a year. I sorted through my notes and papers, books and clothes wanting to carry the bare minimal. I mailed six envelopes of journals and papers. In the afternoon, I went over to Lyn's to listen to a story she's just completed. We went up to the terrace and I relaxed in a hammock with a sherry in hand. She began to read a tale about her family, cloaked as fiction. She reads well and her glib description of people held my interest but I felt my self slipping away and so listened harder. I lasted until page 12. This is no reflection on her writing, only my own tiredness and I hope she forgives me.

Later, Susan came over and tried on all my dresses as I offered her one as a birthday gift. She found two that pleased her. My favourite red one that I bought in Greece last year (although I didn't tell her) and a white floral that I bought in Northern Ireland.

I ate dinner at her place and then returned to finish my packing. I moved slowly. I was also worried. Tatu, a long time ago, offered his apartment in Paris and as this is my favourite city in all the world, I ask him over three weeks ago if I could take him up on his offer. He called his cousin who is staying there and told me that it wasn't a problem so I booked my flight. When I went yesterday for a key, he called his cousin again and said that two guests had unexpectedly arrived and there was no room. I was annoyed to say the least. Camillo said that I might be able to stay at his place if I didn't expect five-star accommodation but he would have to get back to me. At midnight, I still hadn't heard from him and so went to bed with thoughts of wandering the streets with my suitcases searching for a reasonably priced room. He woke me at 1:30 a.m. to say a friend would pick me up at the airport.

I wonder, at this point in my blog, if the small detail is boring to my family and friends. I think I'm boring myself so will close. Bedding is picking me up in two hours and I still have a bit to clean and pack.

If I make entries my last two days in France depends on whether I find an internet cafe in Paris or not. Monday "all being well" (my father's expression - or does he say, "God willing") I will be in the arms of my family. My arrival day is also Brendan's twenty-fifth birthday.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Sometimes I question my intelligence. I drove blindly into the country last night looking for the home of the Aurels to return the car. (I misplaced their phone number and address and hoped that my memory would serve me well. It did after a few wrong turns.)

Jean Francois and Julie Aurel were our neighbours when we lived in Castelnau for a year and have since moved to a large country estate with a swimming pool, several gites, and horses. Julie, a public health nurse, helped me several times with the children. Her daughter, Anna, although a few years older than Gill, played with her and looked after her every school lunch as Gill was only three and didn't like sitting with children her age. But Jean Francois is especially dear to me. He is a banker and on Mondays, his day off, he would take the time to tell me about French culture, literature, and family life. One day, when I told him that I must go home and clean, he said, "What is more important, a clean house or a good conversation?" When I repeated this last night, Julie gasped and Jean Francois sat back in his chair and smiled.
Both the Aurels are generous and have great patience. I arrived unexpectedly and yet they took the time to talk to me, an awkward situation as my French is limited, and then they invited me to Le Verdier to eat. We sat talking to near midnight when they drove me home.
I wish now that I had gone to see them more than once. I have had few opportunities to use my French this summer - only in a limited way at restaurants and stores - and I would like to become more literate in this beautiful language.

Today, I will drive to Gaillac with Bedding and return the insurance papers for the car and buy a small gift for my neighbours. I will finish cleaning up and covering the furniture, and then complete my packing. I intend to travel light and limiting the clothes that go into my suitcase is not a problem: it's my notes and books that are difficult to part with. Again, I question my intelligence. I should have put most of my files into the computer at an earlier date and would not now have to decide what I will and won't need in the year ahead.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

I spent the first night, in a long time, alone in the house. This morning I rose later than usual, made myself a coffee, and stood gazing out the back window.

A slight young man smiled and waved from a window across the garden. Simon from Columbia. He resembles Cupid, the one from the Rococo period in art, with short curly hair - dark instead of light - minus a bow and arrow and wearing a skirt. Yes, he was wearing a wrap-around skirt. Gill and I discussed a month or so ago, how European and Latin men are not afraid to be feminine. She liked this at first and then said she was glad to be leaving them. I wonder how she feels now.

Simon pointed at my window and I nodded. He lept onto the narrow ledge on a building between our two houses and then into my open window. He kissed me on both cheeks and then wandered around the house, returning to say that it smelt of women. We spoke of writing and he told me he is a composer. He writes for the clarinet, an instrument I played in high school. Then, more slowly this time, he lept out my window, across the ledge, and disappeared into Laura's house. These young people play all night. I prefer to have the early morning and the day.

Today I will wash and clean, go to Gaillac, and hopefully, if I can find Jean Francois Aurel, I will return the car in the evening.

I returned to fiction last night and began reading a first novel by Mary Lawson, a Canadian, 60 years old - Crow Lake. There is still hope for me. I feel more and more the urge to be home, to be in my writing house, writing my novel. I pray this urge stays with me. I long also for long stretches of solitude to assimilate all that has passed this past year. I yearn also for my family. Soon. In five days, I will be home.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I am sitting at the small desk that looks over the garden at the back of our house and smiling. I just had a crazy thought. I was trying to imagine two heterosexual men, in conversation, telling the other that he is handsome, that he is sexy. Does this ever happen? Women say such things. This has nothing to do with age. The women at the workshop ranged from 21 years to 70 and complimented each other lavishly. They also spoke openly of their erotic imaginings, their love. Mahala, for instance, told me that I am lusty, vivacious, and that she loves me. (Is it that women are more insecure than men? I don't know. I somehow doubt it.)

Anyway, it is quiet. Maureen is still asleep in the writing room as we had another hot night and she didn't want to sleep on the second floor. I brought the single bed back upstairs and slept in the little room off the bathroom as there was a nice breeze. My mind is wandering to my to-do list. I am now glad that I arranged to stay a few extra days to accomplish all or rather finish up and shut down the house for I don't know how long it will be before I return.

Last night Maureen took me out to dinner at the new hotel and we ate lavishly, ordering the most expensive menu and a fine bottle of wine as a farewell to the village. She leaves this afternoon.

We've decided that we will start our day (or rather her morning) with a twenty-five minute proprioceptive writing session. I intend to continue this practice and find out if it works the way the authors of the book claim. Writing the Mind Alive

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

I began writing in Toulouse, finished in Gaillac.

Marlene is just about to fly into the clouds. I sit in our hotel room feeling lost. We drove in last night with Shirley and Roz. Marlene had been ill all day and we even visited the doctor to find some relief for her intestinal distress. I think the week took its toll. Marlene said that she wanted to give an especially good course as the majority of writers had traveled so far and paid so much. I'm impressed by her professionalism. She rose early each morning, walked, and then closed her door and prepared for an hour. She did the same in the evening. In between, she facilitated the writing for five hours a day, gave each writer a one-on-one 30 to 40 minute consultation and presided over two evenings of open readings. This must have been more draining than her usual intensive courses because of the heat.

I have just said good-bye to Roz. She told me last night that although she came to the workshop to find her way back to writing, her primary purpose in coming to France was to visit with me: she has missed me over the years. This friend, who I hung out with in my twenties, surprised me. Thirty years ago, Roz was much quieter and more reticent about expressing emotion.

Shirley and I then walked over to the Holiday Inn for a buffet breakfast by the pool. It was good but I question if it was 32 euros good. (Thank goodness, Shirley paid with plastic.) I love Shirley's sense of humour, her fluent writing . She is so damn good. I got to know her a little better this week. (As I'm sure she did me.) I discovered that she is as bad as I am about discarding compliments, thinking the giver is merely being polite or nice. We decided over breakfast that from now on, we are going to try to accept compliments with grace and try even harder to see them as truths.

After collecting our bags from La Grand Noble, I dropped Shirley at the airport and drove home the old route, with its tree arched roads, instead of the autoroute, thinking about the past week and paralleling it with a marriage ceremony. One spends so much time and energy planning, preparing so the day will be memorable and then, in a flash, it's over - the realization of a dream.

I still can't assimilate all I learned about writing but one approach to personal essay, memoir, and autobiography comes to mind - one starts with an image - it could be a photograph, a painting, or any object - and then, using the proprioceptive approach, one records each thought and reflects on it. (I've used image before but not exactly in this fashion.)

I was also surprised at how erotic women are en masse. As the week progressed, the writing became more and more body-based, as if each writer, gave another permission to alight on the body in a body of text.

I am at home now. Maureen, the last writer from the workshop, who is staying in my house, must be off writing or reading somewhere. I sit typing this out, breathing naturally, enjoying the quietness, the empty space.

Monday, August 18, 2003

I drove Bet and Kirsten (who hadn't slept all night) to the train at 6:45 and Betty, Anne, and Sheila to Gaillac at 9:45. I'm tired but pleased with myself: I have been able to do the hosting and coordinating of this event (with the help of my friends in the house) with few hitches. The only women who weren't pleased with their accommodation were Betty and her partner - no hot water and swarms of mosquitoes. Maureen who was going to move into their gite is now moving in with me. She is pleased to be coming to the "Writing House."

Last night, we all gathered for the last time at the Lighthouse and Christine prepared and served, with the help of Isabel, an amazing feast, the best food anyone has tasted in the south of France. Marlene fulfilled her promise and sang a John Denver song. This beautiful woman who facilitated the workshop and pleased even the thorniest of writers, surprised me: she was so nervous, her voice quivered. Afterwards she was annoyed with herself but no one, I think, cared and it only endeared her to us. (As if we need more reason.)

After Marie and Maria, our New York branch, departed, a group of us went down to the fete at the Esplanade and rocked and moved extravagantly to some pretty mediocre music, discoed by some jockey who loved to yell commands throughout the music. Annoying but I didn't care that much. I love dancing and needed to let go. Marlene and I said goodnight at 2:30 a.m. I have no idea when Roz, who has been videoing highlights of the week, turned off her light. The only sensible one was Shirley who retired early.

Today, Shirley, Roz, Marlene, and I will drive to Toulouse, go out for dinner, and spend the night at the Grand Noble as my three friends head off on separate adventures tomorrow. I will head back to the village and start the house closing routine. I am so tired, too tired to even think clearly about my writing, about the week.

One week today, I will be back in Rob's arms, back with my family, and back to my writing house. I am anxious for warmth and solitude.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

It's the last day of the workshop and even though I was up at 4, I have little time to blog so this will be brief (I think.) Yesterday all arrived in silence, began writing to reggae and candle, moved on to discussion of memoir, break for lunch, and back to read and write again. The voices are so distinct and recognizable now and for the first time, Jane was sitting beside me and I could hear her soft voice and decipher her British accent. Although she claims to be an artist, she writes beautifully. I also got a better taste of Lyn's writing and loved the sexy tale she has begun and has yet to finish. Mahala, as usual, writes from the heart and is so touchy-feely affectionate and extravagant that I can't help loving her (as does everyone else I think.) I know I'm missing people in this journal and hate to as all have added an ingredient or two that has enriched this experience for me so I will return later but time is running out this morning.

The village fete and dinner last night was hilarious although some may not think so. We gathered under a canopy and before anything was served, a thunder and lighting storm happened and rain fell fast and furious. They had to move some people down to the fire station and finally at around 9:30 they started serving melon. And damn it all, I had risen so early, I was exhausted and after the aligot and saucisse was served, I stumbled home to bed.

Will fill in the details later. yy

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Saturday morning and I've been up since 3:30 woken by music drifting up from the Esplanade. It's the second night of the village fete. The women in Danielle's house who are closer to the source are wearing ear plugs.

I can't believe we have only two days to go. Yesterday we started in silence and will do so again today. It's rather nice not talking, not listening to chatter in the morning and then moving right into writing but when I made the coffee and didn't put the container in properly and the pot overflowed and soaked the buffet, dripped through to the dishes, and then down my newly painted basement wall, I wanted to scream obscenities. Instead I went for a walk and Roz and Shirley prepared the table for breakfast.

We began once again with proprioceptive writing and then Marlene discussed autobiography with examples from "Miriam's Kitchen" by Elizabeth Ehrlich who weaves journal entry, short story, quote, and recipes into each chapter. Using Tristine Rainer's book, we wrote five-minute accounts of our life, followed by thirty minute versions. Interesting what events each person chooses to include and exclude.

We broke for a lunch of leftovers and after, I lay down for a moment, fell asleep, and had to be woken for the afternoon session. (I should mention that the day is cooler. Finally, we can work in comfort.) Most of the writers read one of their morning pieces. I am in awe of the quality of the work being produced. I am also amazed by the trust in the room. Some of the tales are raw and painful, difficult to read and difficult to listen to.

We finish at three and gather again at 4:30 for opening readings. Marie reads an account of her day at Lourdes, written as a letter to her son. And then her cousin, Maria reads an excerpt of her mother dying from her autobiography. Jen changes the mood and entertains us with a bawdy tale of the Columbians in town and then another about a French man who ended up sleeping on her front porch with Jasmine, the three-legged cat.

We ate dinner at the old restaurant in town.

For once I behaved myself and went early to bed but now I've spoiled it by rising early. I wonder if I really do only need five hours of sleep a night.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Yesterday was our free day and the women of my household went to Albi and ate lunch at the restaurant Bren and I found at Christmas. The food wasn't as good. The service was worse. If I hadn't been expecting excellence, it would have been acceptable. After Roz, Shirley, and Bet headed off to the museum and Marlene and I shopped. (I found a cotton skirt to match my wench top for ten euros.) After several hours, we all met for coffee and then drove to Gaillac to the air-conditioned mall. I hate malls but I've acquired affection for this cool place where we sat and ate ice cream and bought a few odds and ends for dinner.

The thermometer at the mall read 36 degrees.

Home for a dinner of chicken fillets in Soya and salad. I was going to take several hours to read and write but instead went to the first night of the village fete to listen to accordion music with Roz. I blame her for leading me away from my studies.

The Esplanade was sparsely populated and the bar there was serving only beer and soft drinks so Roz and I left to pick up wine from the restaurant bar and ran into Jen and Kirsten. Tatu was playing pool bare-chested and the young writers fanned themselves. (Gill, I think, would laugh, at the lust Tatu is inspiring.) We left quickly, picked up a bottle of wine from my place, and on the way to Jen's house decided to say hello to Susan and David, Justin and Makiko and ended up staying and drinking our bottle there. Kirsten surprised us by speaking Japanese and singing once again an Australian folk song. Both Jen and her are a treat and IÕm happy we have their young sexy voices at the workshop.

I must run. Time to set up for the fourth writing day. We begin again in silence.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Last night we went to Angela's house in Lacapelle for a feast and ate, drank, sang, and made merry. I danced on the table. After a few minutes, Bet and Marlene joined me. (Each time I dance tabletop is like a trophy. I'm not sure why.)
I am so brazen that I wore my green silk see-through dress with my green underwear, no slip. I felt risqué, wonder if I'm indecent, and then don't give a damn: the heat demands that one wear as few garments as possible. Also, in a group of women, there is no need for modesty. Roz and Shirley both get naked to sleep. Shirley corrects me. She gets naked. She's not sure about Roz and since both of them wear thick glasses, without them, neither can see. My poor friends are cooking in the attic. (Angela noted that the day was 41 degrees. The evening 36. )

Yesterday morning, I put up two "Silence" signs and all the writers entered, poured coffee, drank, and ate without saying a word. Roz took over for me and I left to read on my favourite bench. At nine, I lit the ritual candle. Marlene started the music and we all slipped into our writing easily. We begin with the proprioceptive approach. Marlene decides to leave the readings until the afternoon as our energy only lasts so long in the heat. She discusses several articles. "The Red Shoes" by Susan Griffin. "Eternity's Sunrise" by Marion Milner. "Carnal Acts" by Nancy Mairs and moved on to discuss Susan Tiberhien's method of beginning a personal essay with a single image. At first, I am frozen and then an oil a friend painted came to mind and I'm off. One, two, three, four, five pages pour out and I know I have a new story. This happens so rarely, I am thrilled.

We break for lunch and the four women in this house meet Susan and we go to the Esplanade for a picnic of hard boiled eggs, olives, tomatoes, bread, cheese, and water. Susan asks for ways to solve a problem in her writing. I sit, listen and feel like pinching myself. Here we are in the south of France, writing and discussing writing. I think of Vaughan entering a restaurant at UBC at the moment when a group of us are talking about font types and how she smiled and noted her pleasure at walking in on a writer's conversation.

In the afternoon session, we read our morning's writing. Roz, Shirley, Mahala, and Sheila have all written about their mothers. One would think this theme would become tiresome but each writes with such originality, without sentimentality, that I am overwhelmed. Every women in the workshop has a strong voice. I love it. My piece has erotic overtones. I am beginning to believe that this is my forte. I love writing about the body in a body of writing. As I know my sons read this, I will not elaborate. My daughter always tells me to stop at a certain point. (Funny how children cringe when they think of their parents as sexual beings and how I hestitate here, not wanting to inform mine. I can remember when my mother became pregnant when she was 37 and I was disgusted.)

I must run. Today is a free day and we're going to Albi.
Last night we went to Angela’s house in Lacapelle for a feast and ate, drank, sang, and made merry. I danced on the table. After a few minutes, Bet and Marlene joined me. (Each time I dance tabletop is like a trophy. I’m not sure why.)
I am so brazen that I wore my green silk see-through dress with my green underwear, no slip. I felt risqué, wonder if I’m indecent, and then don’t give a damn: the heat demands that one wear as few garments as possible. Also, in a group of women, there is no need for modesty. Roz and Shirley both get naked to sleep. Shirley corrects me. She gets naked. She's not sure about Roz and since both of them wear thick glasses, without them, neither can see. My poor friends are cooking in the attic. (Angela noted that the day was 41 degrees. The evening 36. )

Yesterday morning, I put up two “Silence” signs and all the writers entered, poured coffee, drank, and ate without saying a word. Roz took over for me and I left to read on my favourite bench. At nine, I lit the ritual candle. Marlene started the music and we all slipped into our writing easily. We begin with the proprioceptive approach. Marlene decides to leave the readings until the afternoon as our energy only lasts so long in the heat. She discusses several articles. “The Red Shoes” by Susan Griffin. “Eternity’s Sunrise” by Marion Milner. “Carnal Acts” by Nancy Mairs and moved on to discuss Susan Tiberhien’s method of beginning a personal essay with a single image. At first, I am frozen and then an oil a friend painted came to mind and I’m off. One, two, three, four, five pages pour out and I know I have a new story. This happens so rarely, I am thrilled.

We break for lunch and the four women in this house meet Susan and we go to the Esplanade for a picnic of hard boiled eggs, olives, tomatoes, bread, cheese, and water. Susan asks for ways to solve a problem in her writing. I sit, listen and feel like pinching myself. Here we are in the south of France, writing and discussing writing. I think of Vaughan entering a restaurant at UBC at the moment when a group of us are talking about font types and how she smiled and noted her pleasure at walking in on a writer’s conversation.

In the afternoon session, we read our morning’s writing. Roz, Shirley, Mahala, and Sheila have all written about their mothers. One would think this theme would become tiresome but each writes with such originality, without sentimentality, that I am overwhelmed. Every women in the workshop has a strong voice. I love it. My piece has erotic overtones. I am beginning to believe that this is my forte. I love writing about the body in a body of writing. As I know my sons read this, I will not elaborate. My daughter always tells me to stop at a certain point. (Funny how children cringe when they think of their parents as sexual beings and how I hestitate here, not wanting to inform mine. I can remember when my mother became pregnant when she was 37 and I was disgusted.)

I must run. Today is a free day and we’re going to Albi.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Rob, our house, is filled with music and women's voices. I am pleased. You would be astonished. Even though the heat is making writing and thinking difficult in the afternoon, the mornings are heaven. We started yesterday with proprioceptive writing. Candle and Bach. Marlene suggested themes and we all sped off into our private thoughts and recorded them. We then, one by one, read. We took a break half way through and I am so full of emotion, I want to sit and cry. No one holds back. All the "writs" are raw and true. What is read may eventually find its way into a publication but I do not feel comfortable telling other's stories here. There is always inner dialogue when I write my blogs. What I say about myself is easy. What I say about others is always weighed.

We eat pizza for lunch from the Tuesday market. I wander, solve a few house problems, returning just in time to hose myself down in the bath, jump into a dress, no underclothing - even the smallest garment holds heat - and move downstairs. Everyone is hot and tired. Marlene discusses an article by Marion Milner and when we start writing, she holds individual meetings upstairs. We are like school children. When she leaves, most of our attention wavers some stop working and close their eyes. I try to write but find myself only doodling and leave and pace outside. Marie joins me.

When Marlene returns, we discuss journal writing and then part. At five thirty, we gather again for open readings. I start the readings off with my Apres Anais Nin piece. Roz follows with a journal piece written after her mother died. Bet follows with poetry. This dear friend says she is not a writer. She lies. Her poetry is about her son who died in his teens. A mother's worst nightmare. Her verse is minimalist but so poignant, I cry. Shirley follows Bet with poetry and several prose pieces, the last about procrastination that we all identify with. She excels at this type of writing that contains strong truths and wry humour. Sheila follows with a series of intricately woven, beautifully written piano stories about three generations of women in her family.

Roz, Shirley, Marlene and I eat leftovers for dinner and when Marlene retires to ground level to work, the rest of us visit Susan and David and return to Marlene's singing and dancing. She tells us Colette stuck her head in, not to ask her to stop but to encourage her. Marlene sings and dances some more and I join in - not in the singing part. She has a beautiful voice and at one time considered becoming a professional singer. I am a crow in this realm. But I can dance and feel like a ballerina twirling round the room. As I write this, I feel a little foolish but what the hell. It takes courage to be a fool. And I am finding my courage among these women.

To bed. This morning is a silent morning. Everyone is to stay within herself until after the proprioceptive writing. Must run, wash, and gather my notes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Second day of the workshop: I am up early, too early, having hardly slept. There is no air. I slept sideways on the bed, my head at the window hoping for a breeze but there was none during the night, none in the morning. It's difficult to think but I slip out of the house in my robe and go and sit on a bench and finish an article by Patti Miller from her book "Writing your Life". She speaks of writing the truth but notes that "the truth is not always bound to the facts".

Yesterday, there were sixteen of us in the salon. Marlene spoke of what she wanted to impart over the course of the next six days and then each person introduced herself and gave a small explanation of why she had come, what she wanted. I identify with Maria from New York. She has been writing a book for six years and is stuck. (I explain that I have been doing the same for nine years and am still trying to find the tone that I need to take my story into the fictive realm. I want Jeanette Winterson's talent to spin a tale.)

We then try the proprioceptive method from the text UBC provided, lighting candle, playing Bach, and writing thoughts on plain paper. I am not sure if I am doing it right but I do what I think I should be doing. Marlene then asks if anyone would like to read their "writ" and Betty Carter, a 70 year old woman to my left, a retired academic, begins. Jen, at 21 is the youngest participant, and she tells in this exercise about her love/hate relationship with writing. We all relate. Some women decline to read but the majority do. This is my favourite part of workshops, hearing other women's stories.

We break for lunch and return. Even though the ground level room is the coolest in the house, it is too hot. Too hot. Sixteen hot writers in a hot room. Jen has a huge fan in her room in her gite and runs to get it. It helps a little and so we begin again to write on our own subject or from topics Marlene suggests. I am only partially present and write a few pages of nonsense and decline to read.

At five, Marlene, Shirley, Roz, Betty (who has become Bet as there are two) and I pile into the Citroen and drive to Gaillac to LeClerc to pick up water, lots of water, and a few odds and ends. We walk into the huge centre and are immediately cooled by the air conditioning. We could have stayed all night. We shop, eat ice-cream and Marlene and Roz talk about chocolate. They are both chocolate-crazy. Kate brought me some from Germany last week, two boxes of morsels that are too small for these women's appetites. They buy more.

Marlene goes out to eat with Mahala who taught at the same workshop in New York. I go out to solve a few problems. Roz and Bet make pasta and salad for dinner. Shirley sits at the computer and promises to do the dishes. The evening passes quickly. Shirley and I take a quick trip over to Susan who loves hearing the details of the workshop. We promise to keep her up to date and even say that we'll try to squeeze in our literary lunch on Wednesday between the two sessions.

I must run. The women will be arriving for breakfast soon and I haven't washed or prepared anything. This is fun.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Mon Dieu. Fifteen writers sat in the salon/writing room last night, eating and drinking. I was overwhelmed and could hardly find my voice. Roz arrived just after midnight minus her suitcase that will hopefully arrive today. The room appears too small and Iím hoping it will work. Marlene said if we do it again we might want to limit it to twelve. But we will see. What an amazing group of woman. There are two young women, Jen and Kirsten in their twenties who said they want to write erotic literature (I said Iíd teach them) and the bulk of us are in our forties, fifties, sixties. I am anxious to begin writing and hear all their voices.
Marie and Maria from New York arrived yesterday afternoon and are staying at a gite around the corner from my house. They discovered, when I was in the bath, that there were no sheets or towels and came running. (The remedy was to visit the owner who rented them at eight euros a bed.) The problems so far have been minimal and easily solvable. Marie and Maria, cousins, are lovely. Great accents. And Maria presented me with a gift of a necklace for all my responses to their emails that they said, made them feel comfortable. Mahala from Florida said that she probably wouldnít have come: it all seemed too much a dream, too impossible, except for my emails.
I know Iím leaving people out and I want this record to remember all and everything but Iím sure that more names will appear over the next few days.
Lyn, a resident of the town, an English woman, brought her friend Jane, a beautiful statuesque blond to our opening meal but I was too busy running and serving to get to know her.

Towards the end of the evening Carol from Carolina stuck her head in and announced that there is a full moon. I suggested dancing naked under it (I am all words) and Mahala thought it a wonderful idea.

So today we begin. It is almost seven in the morning. My blog does not note the correct time and I must get this online, wash myself, and prepare the kitchen for breakfast and straighten the writing room. I announced to the crowd last night that it will be a European breakfast that includes coffee, juice, and croissant. If they wanted yogurt, they must tell me as UBC is not paying - Marlene and I are - and they all said that if they wanted more, they would bring it. I love them all. Now I want to write.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

I am happy. Today, we rose early or I rose, Shirley and Marlene hardly slept. Felt like a pajama party. Shirley sleeps naked (she says) and throws a dress on in the morning. Marlene wanders in underwear and tank top. Me, I am sophisticated in a short nightgown. Itís too hot. Decency be damned. (Now, if we were really liberated, weíd forget clothes altogether in the house.)

Shirley and Marlene took off for a quick walk. I start to clean up (one of the first times since my guests arrive. Theyíve been doing the work, honest Kate) and the phone rings.
Danielle, the owner of a house, has been locked out. I throw on a robe and hurry to La Place and find Venay who returns to let her landlord in. Other writers are arriving for coffee. I have to admit, I feel a little proud. After all the emails, all the arrangements, this workshop is really happening.

Betty, Shirley, Marlene, and I took off soon after nine for St. Antoine Noble Val to buy food for the UBC feast this evening. Itís fun shopping with someone elseís money. We bought three roasted chickens, an assortment of olives, an obscenely huge loaf of bread, salad, huge hunks of cheese, fresh figs, a flat of peaches. This will be a casual get-together, a time for everyone to get to know each other. Shirley carries the UBC purse and pays for all this. Betty holds the household purse and pays for all our private food. We make a great team. We put the food in the car and head out for ice-cream, sit in the shade, and lick.

Return home. Isabel arrives and agrees to drive 130 kph maximum. She is not offended.
She is picking up Maria and her cousin, Marie, our two New Yorkers in Toulouse. Later in the day, Maureen arrives. Later still, Roz.

Tomorrow the writing begins. I pray for a miracle, a stroke of genius, or at least a gem of an idea.

Last night, I forgot to say, was interesting ñ I know ìinterestingî is a banal word but I donít know how else to describe the meeting of the two sexiest, most verbal women I know. Susan and Marlene. The conversation was light, introductory, and when Marlene asked Susan about her writing, she said ìIím not a writer.î I think she was shy. Hopefully, there will be more time for conversation and explanation in the next week.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Yesterday, Gill left me at the airport. Or rather, I left her. What kind of mother would send a beautiful 16 year old to Paris to spend the night alone before she flies home the next day? Gill, if you read this, Iím missing you already.

So Gill leaves and I picked up Marlene and Sheila who I hadnít met. So good to see Marlene again, this wild gypsy woman who is always warm and embracing. On the way home, on the autoroute, while Iím doing my fast 120 kph, a car sped by me, doing at least 180 weaving in and out like a maniac and suddenly his car bashes against the right hand side rail, bounces across the highway to the left, bashes into that side rail, flies into the air, and bangs down onto the road. No movement. All tires flat. A young man opens the door, sets out. I am in a state of shock, slow down, pull a little over to the right and pass him. Another car has stopped ahead and another behind so I know the young fool will be taken care of. Sheila urges me on: ìThe car may blow up.î It is a miracle that the driver survived, a miracle that no one else was hurt. When I get home, I warn Isobel to drive carefully.

She picks up Shirley at 6 who has finally arrived and brings her back at 160 kph. (Itís good to finally have another plum, another good friend in the house.) The writers who have arrived and been picked up by Isobel are concerned. Now, I must speak to her and explain that North Americans are neurotic. Our top speed is 110 and I will ask her to slow down.

So the town has begun to fill up with writers. Marlene, Shirley, Betty, Venay, Sheila, and Mahala who arrived yesterday from Florida, are wandering the streets. Iím introducing everyone as a famous writer. Why not? We can be who we want when away from home.
Three more writers will arrive today, the rest tomorrow.

Marlene, Shirley, Betty, and I are going to share a meal with Susan, David, and Susanís eldest son and his Japanese girlfriend tonight. The heat continues to incapacitate us. Most will go to the lake for a swim. If the people arrive this afternoon soon, I will be able to join them. I havenít swam in that lake for years but then again, this is the first summer that has been hot enough to make it necessary.

I continue with my antibiotics. No wine.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Iím awake at 5:30. Not bad. I went to bed at around 11 but still feel fragile. The doctor yesterday gave me a prescription for antibiotics, a nasal spray, and head medicine. Iím taking all religiously as I have to find my strength for the coming week.
Betty arrived looking beautiful, a little like Betty Boop with small curls around her face and her strange tale about meeting the man in London who has been in love with her for twenty years. She is staying at Susanís in the room I used to have, on the ground level, at the back with a monk-like window looking over the esplanade. She has two rooms in fact, one joining the other, and she is pleased. After eating lunch with Susan and David, she retired to her rooms and I, to my house to sleep, setting the alarm for 4 as I had to pick Gill up at the lake.
Before leaving, Venay arrived for the writing workshop one day early. She had been exploring Spain and lost track of the days. The house where she is to stay is not available until today so she is happy sleeping on the pullout couch in the writing room. I wonder what other surprises will happen this week.

And then a miracle happened. I was speaking to Rob on the phone and a sand storm raged through the streets of the village. I imagine it was a little like a hurricane, appearing without a momentís notice and knocking over all in its path including large pots of plants and flowers. And I do mean large, some as tall as me (no wise cracks, please.) And then blessed rain and thunder and lightening followed. At last, relief from the intense heat.

Gill and I, Betty and Venay, went and had a meal at Le Bar in cool evening air. I was almost cold. We walked home in the rain, loving every drop.

Iím hoping the storm that has covered the streets in debris ñ I will have to sweep this morning ñ and my clean house with a sand ñ means the weather will be cooler.

This morning, we will go to Gaillac to the market and early afternoon, I will take my precious daughter to the airport. She is flying to Paris to stay the night and then on to Vancouver the next day. I will miss her. She is so thoughtful. She has literally taken over the kitchen, making wonderful healthy meals, and presenting them like a fine chef. Yesterday morning, she made scrambled eggs with red peppers and tomatoes, toast and jam, and set the table in the writing room with placemats, napkins. It was a tribute to our last meal alone.

I read Kateís public journal yesterday and I feel I failed her. I gave her no ammunition for her Globe column. There will be no blog war. I wonder what she expected. This is my public journal and I am aware of the number of people who read it. Did she expect me to tell the fine details of her relationship with John? He is rather a strange man, quiet, meticulous ñ he even ironed his pants - and he often badgered her, poking his fingers into her waist and pulling her shoulders back. (If you remember his ingredients for a perfect marriage, this will make sense.) And although this might have annoyed me with some, I felt Johnís moves were done with affection. He was always looking at this woman he married. And well he should, Kate deserves attention. I also liked the way, John spent hours reading our Greek dictionary and encyclopedia. He is curious about the world and would relate facts that interested him. In this way, he reminds me of Rob. And in this way, I envy men. All hell could happening in the household and while the women fly and attend, the men read on.

Iíve ranted on long enough.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The heat doesn't cease. Impossible to function at 40 degrees. Impossible to sleep. Worse still. I am sick with a cold that is twisting my sinuses so my head aches and my throat and chest are raw. How dare this happen right before the writers arrive? So, I will go to the doctor in four minutes and see if he or she can knock this out of me fast. Depending on my state, I will return to blog.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Iím scrambling today. Slept well considering the heat. Colette, my neighbour said that she slept in her garden and had difficulty. Today promises to go well into the forties again and in half a hour I have to drive to Vaour and pick up Gill and Charelle drive them back, pick up Susan and take her to Puycelsi for a literary lunchÖ pant, pantÖ come home clean the house top to bottom, four floors, wash and go out for dinner with Carol. Iíll manage but the heat, the heat, makes all movement slow.

Last night, I ironed, fool that I am, some curtains for Susan, then measured them and helped her hang them. And my French friend dropped in, the one with the violent marriage and she recounted some more horror stories to me. I have never known physical violence and I canít imagine what it would be like living in fear for your life. The obvious solution is that she has to leave but sheís been told if she does, sheíll never see her children again. Itís more for the children than herself that she wants to leave so she feels caught because she says her husbandís family live in another country and the children could easily be taken. The fact also that she has little to no money of her own doesnít help. Another friend says that France doesnít have places for battered women and children though conjugal violence is common. What to advise? I can only provide an ear.

Itís going to be difficult to keep writing as my house fills up with people but all the work on the house this year and last have been in preparation for this event. I wonder how the reality will compare to the dream of a house for writers. I have high hopes.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Itís too hot to think, too hot to write, too hot and itís only mid-morning. Gill and I may go to Albi. We have already been to the town market for melons, courgettes, and salad.

Gill will leave me this afternoon to set up a tent in Vaour with a girlfriend. I worry a little. Rob laughs and thinks sheíll have great fun. I hope so. Still I canít quite relinquish the role of guardian to this graceful young woman, taller than me, a poet, a beauty. I want to keep her safe and sound.

Yesterday afternoon I heard a baby cry and I thought ìBrianís awake.î Kate and John and this precious babe left by train at noon. I wonder how my friend will read my blog. What did I say? I like this public journal more and more. We, the collective we, usually tell so little of our thoughts. We only express what we think worth telling. Often, we weight each word before it leave our mouths. Here I simply spew ñ and yes, I am selective ñ but I try not to be a fussy editor, a polished writer. I want to tell my friends and family what Iím doing so they will keep me a part of their life.

I hardly slept last night. Gill and I had dinner with Susan and David, Bedding and Alena. Susan served all kinds of exotic vegetable dishes. We contributed wine, ham, and cheese and ate all with Davidís homemade bread, baked at three in the morning. I donít know if some magic always happens in the oven at this hour, if so, David should change his sleeping habits because it was the best bread Iíve ever tasted.

After dinner, David played some country and western Lps. Kate was surprised that David likes this genre. I guess it would seem incongruous that a Milton expert, an English professor, an intellectual, would show obvious delight in Johnny Cashís ìA boy called Sueî but thatís part of Davidís charm. We tried to find ìI walk the lineî, a song Rob and I named ìour songî so long ago Iíve forgotten the reason. No luck.

Oh I am groggy. Maybe if I shut all the windows and shutters, I will be able to nap this afternoon. And NO this is not a sign of old age but the story of one hot mama who has too much on her mind.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Yesterday the temperature was well over forty and stifling. I canít believe Iím complaining about the heat but it was too hot to move although early evening, with minimum clothes, the five of us piled into the old Citroen and drove to Vaour for the second night of their yearly fete. We call this the hippie fete as hundreds of young and old, casually dressed like Woodstockians, gather to drink, smoke dope and listen to music. The old church, centre town, is now an art museum and the exhibit this year was downright eerie. A dozen or so, life-like figures were placed inside the church to resemble a wedding party but the models had exaggerated facial features, caricatures of humourless people, the worst being a monster priest with bulging eye balls in the confession box. Kate, John, Gill, and I, with Brian in his stroller were sitting sipping wine and gin (guess who was drinking the hard stuff?) listening to a band play easy French music, at a table at the bottom of the church steps. When Kate set Brian free, he kept climbing up those steps and into the church. I followed him a few times and saw a man straighten a figure several times ñ the artist? I wonder how he felt about people laughing at his work. Or is that the point? I didn't find it funny. When the music ended, we wandered a little, ate salad, saucisse, escargot, and frites, each according to personal preference except Johnís, and then Gill and Kate went inside an open building to listen to a reggae group while John and I sat outside with Brian who squealed with delight at two little girls who kept running past him.

The house hadnít cooled by the time we returned and I opted to sleep downstairs though I slept little. I have been up since four. Kate and her family leave today and I wish we had more time. The week has sped by too quickly. What can I say about my friend and her family? Kate has threatened a blog war, after she returns home and reads my account of this week so I must be nice. Iím never nice without cause. Kate and Gill have worked more than me in way of meal preparation and cleanup. I feel, with a little guilt, as if Iíve been on vacation. Iíve written more than I have all summer and Kate has had little time. I have forgotten how much time and energy the first year of motherhood requires. As I think this, I wish I had done more for her. I am her motherís age but I donít feel like her mother. More often than not, it works in reverse. She is too wise for someone so young. She keeps telling me to guard my time to write, not to do too much for others. I think she needs to take her own advice.

So this is our last morning together for who knows how long. Gill and I will take the three into Gaillac and then on to the train station. I feel like crying.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Today, Iím writing late although I started the day early. I went to La Place, ordered a cafÈ and lost myself for a while in my journal. I thought of Rob and composed a love letter. And then a French woman I know a little joined me. Her hands were shaking. She is so unhappy that she needed to talk. She is in a physically abusive marriage. She has a small child. She is going for counseling but still, she cannot leave. One of the most frustrating things in this world is not being able to solve anotherís problems.

In four days, Betty and Shirley will arrive for the workshop. I am excited and apprehensive ñ not about these two friends joining me but about all the strangers who follow. I have never played the role of host to such an event. Am I organized? Kate plays the mother role and tells me that I must not do too much if I want to benefit from the collective writing experience.

I think if I rise early enough during the week of the workshop, write in my journal, do my blog, I will be calm. I have become very attached to this public journal. It keeps me on my toes writing, and lets me share my thoughts and doings with my family and friends. I admit also that it allows me to send opaque messages to individuals. For instance, I used the word ìstrikingî the other day. I worried after. I didnít like the word but couldnít bring myself to use handsome, beautiful, lovely, and pretty is far too ordinary. So I settled for a striking word.

I hear Brian above my head, banding on the floor with his French toys, empty water bottles. Yesterday, Gill and I gave Kate and John a break and entertained him. At eleven months, he canít be left for a moment so we romped around my bed, played with hats and bangles, and then I introduced him to country and western. I wonder if Kate will blame me if her son becomes a cowboy.

I have an urge at times to switch to second person in this blog. Christa Woolf wrote an entire book in second and it is eerie. I donít know if I liked it or not:
What do you think? You got up this morning feeling cloudy. You stumpled into the bathroom, relieved yourself, washed your hands, walked barefoot to the kitchen. You add water, filter, coffee to the electric coffee maker, a new addition to your kitchen. You watch the coffee filter through, heat milk, and then coffee bowl in hand, you go down the stairs and sit in your usual spot, on the cushion by the small window.

Think my mind is moving into the writing realm. This is good. The day is already too warm. I will play a little with my novel as Gill and Kate prepare the meals and clean up. I feel free to come and go as I please. This evening, we will all go to Vaour to enjoy the
second day of their fete.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

The morning after last nightís feast and Iím moving slowly. (Is it any wonder? I went to Le Bar afterwards and had three armagnac - forced on me of course.)

Kate and Gill did the cooking. Appetizers and drinks were served in the salon. Ten plus Brian were present. I know now that the room will accommodate sixteen. David had just arrived from Scotland and brought me a gift, Hugh Hamiltonís ìThe Speckled Peopleî and I am pleased as it can not yet be purchased in the new world. I heard Hamilton read an excerpt from this book in Belfast at the Amnesty Benefit and loved his writing so I am looking forward to a good read.

At around nine, we moved everyone upstairs for a sit-down dinner. Kate served her Seven Treasures Couscous and Gill her now perfect salad with bread and wine, followed by cheese and golden peaches, compliments of Carol. Susan was restless and so I left with her before the meal was finished and climbed to La Vierge. The stars seem to shine brighter here and Susan, of course, knows all the constellations and pointed them out to me. But she is tired after a two hour hike in the afternoon and left to go to bed. I returned to my house just as Sue and Carol were leaving. Carol suggested we walk to La Place for a nightcap. I havenít gone to the square at night often this trip, forgetting how nice it is to sit outdoors and watch the nightlife of the village. (Gill was inside with a group of friends.) After our second drink, I looked up, and saw Kate striding decisively across the square, long hair flowing, like some woman warrior in her pjs (that just passed for casual wear). Kate is 31 and I wonder if she knows how striking she is. (I can hear her groan and say something to the effect: "I'm not getting older, I'm getting better. Sure, Yvonne.)

Christine arrived just before Kate, plunking herself down at our table and announcing ìIím drunk as a skunkî and then this charming English woman proceeded to tell us that she wasnít wearing ìknickersî and describes the details of her sex life. As she pokes fun at herself, her comic timing is perfect. (Playing the fool is not easy on the psyche. I feel for her having played the role myself.)

Last night, Suzi will be glad to hear, I read Gill and Kate the original opening to my novel, written in 1994, and they loved it. Gill said she wanted to hear more. Why didnít I continue? Perhaps I needed distance. Some famous woman writer wrote that it took her twelve years to find her voice and the necessary discipline needed to write at length. If this is true for me, I will soon be ready.

The French weather report announced that today the thermometer will rise to 40 and our plan is to visit Albi. Kate suggested that we go in the morning before the real heat descends but I am incapable of speed. Thank goodness, she is generous and agrees to wait.

Friday, August 01, 2003

The first day of August and my spirits are up. Donít worry Suzi: despair, from time to time, is natural for a writer. But I have a seed of an idea where to go with my novel if I can only get Kate alone for half an hour. (Itís not only her advice that I trust and need. I want to hear me make statements about my ideas so Iíll know if theyíre sound or not.)

Kate reveals me to myself as a first-time mother. She is so conscientious and loving with this small person, her son. Brian even resembles Brendan with his fair fair hair, big eyes, and large head ñ still out of proportion to the rest of his body. I see Brian. I think Brendan who will be twenty-five on the 25th of this month and I gush. How could Rob and I have made this intelligent, artistic, man? And another and another? I am in awe of our offsprings. Relationship. Kate, John, and I, with Gill listening, spoke of the ingredients for a good marriage and John said that both parties must be aware of three things: 1. Weight 2. Posture 3. Tidiness. (Kate finds untidiness comforting. I noted that fighting over issues is a sign of a good marriage)

Today, we go to Gaillac market, home to drop off groceries and flowers as tonight, weíre giving a feast for Susan, Sue, Carol, Bedding, Alena, and David who returns from Scotland today, and then we move on to Cordes to introduce John to aligot and sauccisse, or French bangers and mash.

Gill and Kate are doing the breakfast dishes as I sit frantically trying to write this blog as I have only a half hour to dress and be at the door.

I must be quick: I failed to provide a link yesterday for Wintersonís The Passion and more important, Brendan informed me by email that my links are to so need to worry about the ethics of books from over the border.

Last night I began a book Kate brought me The Rules of Engagement by Catherine Bush that I will comment on when Iíve read more.

Time. Time. I need more time. This snail must shed her shell.