Sunday, August 29, 2004

I disappeared for a few days and now am having difficult alighting. Yesterday I went with Bett to gather lavender that she'll plant in her garden in Canada. Later she, Marlene, and I went for a drive in the country to Bruniquel, another bastide town with a grand chateau and lovely gardens, and then on to LeClerc for a last grocery shop before Bett and Marlene leave on Tuesday. We have all, I think, retreated into ourselves a little.

I keep thinking of Gill.

On Thursday afternoon, I took Shirin and her to Toulouse by train. They left me to shop at their skinny-girl stores and I wandered and met them for dinner. We stayed in an old hotel across the street from the train station. Friday morning early, Shirin left for Barcelona and Gill and I spent the day together, walking, shopping, and talking. It was lovely and poignant. Where did this young woman come from? She said that she's been waiting since she was twelve to start her own life and she is ready, excited, and I feel like I'm the mother left although I know the time is right.

As Gill's life changes, so does mine. I know - is it age or experience that tells me? - that now my work as caretaker (giver?) is done, and I sort out how I want to live the rest of my life, that hard times are ahead and even though there will be exhiliarating moments, they won't be easy. Mary Oliver's great question comes to mind: now what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life? How long do I have?

I'm up and down these days. I want to feel excited about my life. And I am thrilled about being given a space in the Marion Woodman workshop in England but am also apprehensive. After studying Woodman's texts so long with Marlene, I wonder what it will be like being in the presence of one of my heros - a national treasure, icon, woman, crone, writer, and a person who I am in awe of? I don't know.

This psyche/amour business is scary. Where will I take myself that week in England? I have no idea but, as Brendan told me when he was leaving to live a year in England "I am more scared not to go, than to go."

Tonight, Rob, Marlene, Bett, Susan, David, Bedding, and little old me are going to a concert (classical music not country) in a "cobweb" barn on a meandering road, deep in wine country and thus close to my heart.

Tomorrow, I will be the mother once again and take Marlene and Bett to Toulouse for an afternoon of shopping, a dinner out, an evening in the same hotel that I stayed with my other girls - most likely in the same triple room - and then help them onto a airporter in the morning. I will not say goodbye.

They'll fly into the heavens as I return to Castelnau and Rob. Who knows what will happen?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"Tempus Fuit" A small sign over a gate at Monestieres where the most extraordinary Mise au Tombeau resides.

I have just left my friend Susan's 77th birthday party to post a Happy Birthday to my son Brendan who is 26 today. Happy Birthday dear Brendan. Time really does fly. I hope your day is happy and at least one surprise, real surprise, comes your way.
What words can I send that have meaning for you, man of few words, who thinks hard. Rilke. You said you liked this poem.

"You see, I want a lot./ Perhaps I want everything:/ the darkness that comes with every infinite fall/ and the shivering blaze of every step up."

I have too much emotion these days. I post my love and respect.

End of workshop. Gill leaves in a day.

Hopefully, will fill in more details in the next few days but didn't want to forget Brendan.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The workshop is over and I am tired but content with what I have accomplished over the past few weeks.

I know I have not been keeping this blog up to date but it has been impossible. I have hardly sat down except when the workshop was in session and even then, we were involved in movement, both of body and voice. This is new ground for me. I have become used to exposing myself on paper but when asked to do it aloud, using sound and body rather than words, I felt inhibited, self-conscious, frightened even. The first day we incorporated movement, I missed the cues (much is done with the eyes closed so one can move into one's private thoughts) and I felt like a traveller on a train who had missed her station and was beside myself with grief, not being able to move or express myself.

There is something so private also about the movement and sound sessions that I will not write at length about them. They feel in a way like the "red tent" where women go to be alone, to think and tell their stories without fear of reprisal. Delving into the psyche is scary business and one, or me, rather did not realize how constricted I am until I started this work. Now it is over, I see how far I have to go. (I wonder here if I am making any sense.)

We had a night of open readings and I read "Apres Anais Nin" and "French Letters" and one writer told me that I was "brilliant." Compliments are difficult for me. I note also how hard it is for me to talk of myself in a positive light. So much easier to put myself down. But there is a whisper inside my brain that says "yes, you can write... too many people have told you so... but don't get too cocky." I am lost here.

I want to write so badly it hurts. I want to speak out in a loud confident voice. I need to. "Is this all about you?" a voice in my head asks. Yes, I respond. "Selfish creature" but something else is coming through. I need to do exactly what I am doing if I want to take my writing further.

By the end of the week, there was a true closeness amongst all - one for each Other - and for me, respect for all. We had - every last one of us - to some degree, laid ourselves bare.

The last morning, I asked Marlene if I could read "So Much Happiness" by Naomi Shihab Nye. She said it was a perfect beginning to the last session: "Since there is no place large enough/ to contain so much happiness,/ you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you/ into everything you touch./ You are not responsible." I felt so full.

I am awkward with tender feelings but I feel such tenderness for Marlene and Ursula who led the writers through articles, poetry, meditations, movement, sound, who listened with "rapt attention", who held us together so tenderly.

One moves into a strange space when one does such work. I still feel quite vulnerable.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

There are not enough hours in my day. This second session - body/soul writing - leaves me little time for private writing like this blog as I am also doing the administration work. I love both. What can I tell you in just a few words as we start early today in the new hotel in a glorious old room with large terra cotta tiles, high ceiling, windows that open to the La Place, and Bett and I will soon have to lay out a breakfast of hardboiled eggs, yoghurt, croissants, juice, fruit, and good Italian coffee with steamed milk for all? In just a few days - 2 1/2 - the ten writers plus Marlene and Ursula have grown quite close though we are a hodgepodge of personalities and ages. The writing and movement are responsible and perhaps, Tuesday evening worked some magic.

That night in the town square, we gathered for dinner at the new hotel. The chef gave us a choice of salmon or lamb - both unbelievably good - and as we sat eating our salads, then main course, and of course drinking the local vintage, by chance, a group of musicians began playing across from us. The town folk gathered around the periphery listening. The music was wonderfully lively and oh so French, and Patricia, with her wild Latin blood, finally could stand it no longer and pulled me into the central area to dance. Soon more and more of the writers joined us including Dorianne and Natalie - both ballet dancers - who linked hands with two young village girls. Within moments, we had all linked hands and were dancing in a long stream around and around, circling and recircling, dipping under a set of arms, then another, again and again, until we were delirious with happiness (including the two little girls.)

At some point, we returned to our table for dessert, and when finished and while waiting for the table to clear, I asked the owner, the chef's wife, if I might climb on the table and dance. "Bien sur". But there were two wilder women than me at our table (can you believe it?) and Dahlia and Anna climbed on before the table was clear (which the owner and a waitress raced to do when they saw what was happening) and so, I climbed up and we did a dance of three. I have no idea what we looked like but I felt like one of the three Graces. And my beautiful daughter arrived at this moment and gave me a big grin.

As table tops are slightly confining, we returned to the centre and danced and danced until the rain began to pour, and then Dorianne and Natalie - high on either happiness or wine (perhaps both) continued in the rain - an improvised ballet. Dorianne was doing pose turns around and around the well while Natalie gracefully leaped and moved like some water goddess.

The evening was extraordinary and the writers thanked me as if I were responsible for more than just the reservation.

I must run now but have a bit of news. I am on a cloud. Although seventeenth on the waiting list for the Marion Woodman bodysoul workshop in England at the end of the September, I have been offered a space and have gratefully accepted. (There's no stopping me now.) And while I was riding high on happiness, Marlene had a call (I would imagine from the Marion Woodman Foundation) and she and Ursula were asked if they would assist Marion in a workshop in the spring. They too accepted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

It's early early morning and I'd like to put down words that were written over the past few days before we launch into the body/soul writing session.

Yesterday a new group of women arrived and unfortunately I have yet to meet two because they were stranded at the airport as I did not receive their email. Hopefully they will arrive this morning and not still be upset.

Everything appears to be moving too quickly for me to settle and type this public journal each day. Rob, Gill, and Shirin were supposed to be leaving for Spain today but only Rob will go. Gill and Shirin have not been well (Gill was on and off feverish for two days) and so I took them to the doctor who prescribed four medicines. Although feeling a bit better, they will move into Susan's bottom rooms today so they have freedom to move about and not disturb the workshop.

August 15th

The first session has ended and as I stop to catch my breathe, I am pleased with what has been accomplished: every writer who attended the Life Writing session is content.

The last half day, we wrote jumping from an image that summed up the past week's experience. Marlene, for the first time, joined us. She described the evening before, when all of us walked up to La Vierge and sat on her base under the night sky, bright with stars as the perfect place to be in the company of women.

(Strange, Rob said last night, after an evening barbeque in Lyn's garden that the celebration felt too feminine for him.)

Ursula's heart was so full that she expressed her feelings through body, head, arm gesture, and facial expression. Bett chose a series of images and then alit on the blue kitchen bowl, full of soapy water. I, like Marlene, chose the night sky at La Vierge and then, through some leap of thought, recorded a conversation between Ursula and I in which she told me that I write well and I returned the compliment, not out of politeness but because I do love the way she records her images. Something made me look her in the eye and I asked, "Do you believe me?" She said "no." I asked why I should believe her and she said "Because I said so."

Marlene becomes a little impatient with us all comparing our writing and dismissing it. I have been thinking about this. My plums and I have discussed it in the past - each one of us wondering why the other three allow us to be part of the group. Why is this? We do not think our individual writing without merit but the first raw outpouring is like a new born baby in that it is difficult to see his or her beauty when fresh from the womb, wrinkled and covered in blood, not quite human (or too human?)

I wonder if we need this self-criticism to be more objective in the editing process.

But something strange happened to me in regards to my writing this week. I forced myself to read aloud, no matter how ridiculous? trivial? bad? I thought my spontaneous flow as I wanted to put myself on the line once and for all and expose my smallest thoughts. Interestingly more than one person complimented me and said they wished that they could write like me. This shocked me. I am so messy, I think, and still I caught a glimpse of my power as a writer.

Last night we celebrated Kay's 84th birthday and Marlene, Bett, Ursula and I wore our Isadora Duncan dresses. Ruth, a friend of Lyn, a musician, brought her accordian to serenade the elegant birthday woman.

Picture this - twelve women, two men, in Lyn's garden that borders on a sunflower field and a vegetable patch. The village is perched high in the background. Ruth sits behind a tree-like bush, some yards away, playing her accordian and the music drifts over us, sitting, standing, sipping champagne and wine, around a long table. Marlene and Ursula, in olive and black matching dresses, shawls on shoulders are standing to the side speaking quietly in German. Rob is at the far side of the garden laughing with Lyn who is crouched over the hibachi cooking salmon. Gill and Shirin, both gorgeous in their mini skirts are serving miniature squares of shrimp, vegetable mousse, and meat balls, all on little sticks. The stars come out as the sky darkens and Marlene and Ursula pick up candles, globed in glass, break into "Happy Birthday" accompanied by Ruth on the accordian who has joined them, and I present the cake "poire au chocolat" to Kay. I felt as if I was in a scene from a D.H.Lawrence story.

August 14th

Our last full day was yesterday and in the evening we celebrated with a dinner at the Light house, prepared by Christine. I admit I was a little worried as she is working full time in the restaurant in the new hotel but she came through beautifully with poached salmon, ratatouille, citron-flavoured rice, salad, bread and steamed pear, covered in chocolate and nuts. After dinner, I climbed on the table and struck a dancing pose hoping that would constitute another step towards freedom from convention.

After eating, all of us wandered down to the Esplanade and up to the Vierge to sit on her base and watch for shooting stars. Afterwards, we returned to the Esplanade where the Chipendales (yes, one p) were performing to raucous music. The first two numbers were performed ty two scantily dressed young women and then Zorro appeared on stage, flinging his cape, strutting from one side of the stage to the other in a mask that came half way down his face with slits cut for his eyes (reminding me of Erica Jong's "zipless fuck.") He chose one woman from the audience to sit on a chair middle stage and danced and gyrated around her, slowly removing his clothes while some of us - Ramona, Bett, and I got as close as possible. (Bett, who does not stand on ceremony was dancing earlier by herself, shameless in a low-cut polka dot top. Marlene, who had left early to prepare today's lesson, was also a flussy in her red stretch lace top that looked as if she wore nothing underneath. And me, I was sedate as usual.) The strip-tease was hilarious and strange. The Esplanade was full of families, small children running and the town's older matriarchs, sitting front row centre. I wondered who had chosen the evening's entertainment, part of the four day village fete for the annunciation of the Virgin.

I slipped into bed near one in the morning and woke at five, dressed, and drove Kathy to the train station, returning for our last half day. Time eludes me.

Friday, August 13, 2004

I am so pleased. I awoke at 4:30 this morning and have time to think, to blog. Today is the last full day of session. Tomorrow is a half day. I am a little tired. If someone asked me what I have been doing, I'd say "I don't know. Writing. Looking after people" and still wonder where the time goes.

Yesterday, I set the alarm for 5, responded to emails re second session, boiled some eggs for the breakfast that is served every morning here, left the rest of preparation to Bett and went for coffee in the village square and read the articles on autobiography to be discussed this day, went to Mayor's office at 9 for photocopies, returned to write.

For the last few days, we have begun the morning in silence as we did last year. This feels a little strange as the writers arrive, pour themselves coffee, and sit and eat without saying a word. But it allows us to move into ourselves and it's easier to write. At 9:30, I light a candle, Marlene starts the music - the proprioceptic way - and we begin writing from a Rilke's poem "You See I Want A Lot" that Marlene has left on each seat.

I copied out the first verse: "You see, I want a lot./Perhaps I want everything:/the darkness that comes with every infinite fall/and the shivering blaze of every step up." And then began by saying that sometimes my list of wants depresses me, and though I am blessed in material ways, I want to be "unconflicted, serene, but would this make a happy carrot? I suppose, in a way, I am happy with the darkness I walk into, the tears that fall, the lumps in my throat, and the aches in my gut, and the thoughts in my brain that go round and round tormenting me until I slow my breathing and write it out." I end on a cheeky note. "Another voice gets me in trouble sometimes but how I love it. The sassy, moaning-groaning, racuous cowgirl voice that ain't afraid of them there 'course roots in the earth.'" (Mary Oliver) I read my musings as does everyone. A discussion of autobiography follows.

At noon, Bett and I drove to Cahuzac for food for dinner and fresh fruit for tomorrow's breakfast. Afternoon session began at 1:45. Marlene begins with another Mary Oliver poem and Ursula leads us through a meditation and movement exercise that in turn moves me to write about dance. But I find myself every afternoon struggling to write. I am definitely a morning person.

Immediately after, I left with Ramona and Marian for the Caves de Tecou, a local winery, where we sampled and bought some wine for the reading get-together.

After a quick drive through the country, we returned in time, to collect some cheese and head to the Light house for the readings at 5:30. It surprises me that only Bett, Ursula, and I read our own stuff. The other writers read favourite or memorable passages from other writers.

We return home for dinner. Marlene has feeling a bit off all day and lies down. (Today, she is feeling better or so far so good. I have my fingers crossed.) I begin the salad and Ursula takes over, placing onions, cucumber, tomatoes, eggs, and ham in her artful way into a large salad bowl. We call Marlene and Bett and sit with this and bread, and finish with apple tartlettes.

Bett and Marlene do the dishes. And though the village fete begins at 10 this evening, all of us are too tired to wander over to the Esplanade for even one dance. Perhaps tomorrow, we will go after the group dinner when the Chipendales (I kid you not) are performing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The last few days have passed quickly and there hasn't been much breathing space or time for journaling. I met trains, introduced people to village on the 7th; shopped for feast on the 8th with Marlene, Bett, and Ursula, and did a run into the country with Ramona for wine and champagne. In the afternoon, Rob, Gill, and Shirin left for the jazz festival and their jaunt to Spain, graciously leaving the house open for writers.

Four of us prepared the feast for the welcome dinner. I put my beautiful French tablecloth on the table and set a bowl of sunflowers in the middle. Ursula made a green mixed salad look like a work of art in the large Morrocan bowl that Helen gave me. Bett made garlic potatoes. I stewed zucchini Susan-fashion and and set all on the table with pate, cheese, bread, fresh fruit and later a peach tarte. To the side of the table, I set a large bucket filled with a huge bouquet of pink and violet blossoms interwined with greenery - a gift from Ursula and Bett.

Everyone loved the abundance. And Lyn, who attended the workshop last year, joined us. She called it a bribe which it sort of was as I ran to her at the last minute and ask if she could pick up a writer in Gaillac who was arriving late and she did. But still, she sat at the far end of the table and was a welcome guest.

We are small eclectic group this first week. There's Kay, tall, elegant, a former journalist, 84 years old, who wishes her writing more literary. She apologizes too often at first. She has nothing to apologize about. She writes beautifully and after two and half days is reading without prefacing. Marian, another writer from Vancouver, with tossed curly blond hair, a traveler, bright, high school counsellor, appears (to me) most at ease with her emotions and her writing. Ramona, founder of the Writing Centre at UBC, fellow lover of wine and cheese and more, appears in awe of the village and countryside. I have no idea how many pictures she's taken. She told me when she arrived that doesn't read her writing but she lies. Kathy is in the same house as Ramona. She is from Toronto, a nurse, and learned about the course - oh dear I can't remember - either from the paper or internet. She is soft, quiet, brave, amongst strangers and she too reads her work.

Ursula, Marlene's friend from Toronto who will assist her next week, is one of us this week. She is lovely, so lovely, soft, generous, and can she write? Yes. It's easy to see why she and Marlene are friends. Sometimes I have to rub my eyes when Marlene is facilitating a group of writers. She is composed, eloquent, generous, kind, and weaves some kind of magic that pushes all to move beyond their boundaries.

And then there's Bett and me. Bett extends herself to help me, setting out the breakfast table, running for croissants, brewing coffee, cutting melon, clearing and cleaning and more and worrying too much that she isn't efficient. She's also a woman who doesn't mince her words, writes like a poet, and has a huge heart.

So we have been sitting, writing together for two and a half days and grow more comfortable with each other every minute. The weather is cooler than last year. Last night, Clare, my friend joined us for dinner at La Table Sommier in Gaillac, a restaurant that serves food to complement the wine. (Oh dear Shirley. I can never remember what compliment to use.) It was a lovely evening, sitting under the stars, sipping champagne and or wine (Clare and I behaved ourselves with one glass a piece as we were the drivers), and eating, eating, eating...

Today was a half day. This morning we wrote from dreams and I had a small epiphany that pleased and exhausted me. I will talk about it again but this is my catch-up journal and my head is too full. In the afternoon, when four of the writers took off for Albi, I slept.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

I feel so good this morning. The air is fresh and a cool breeze blows through the window. After cooking in the heat for the past few weeks, this is heavenly. Marlene can't believe how comfortable it is.

Yesterday, I finished all my chores, checked Bett and Marlene's flight - no delays noted - and left for the airport, driving carefully. Rob doesn't understand why this particular route scares me so much. He says drivers in Vancouver are worse. But drivers in Vancouver don't do 140 kph around the city, nor do they change lanes in a flash.

I arrived half an hour early only to find that the plane hadn't left Frankfurt due to mechanical difficulties. My two weary friends arrived an hour and an half late.

And then Ursula, Marlene's friend and assistant from Toronto, who had been traveling in Germany, and who was to have arrived at eight in the evening was also delayed and arrived well after midnight.

No matter. This morning the house is full of women's voices and I am content... and Marlene, wild chocolate woman, lover of song and dance, brought four Isadora Duncan dresses in ruby, green, violet, and black for Bett, Ursula, herself and me, so we can look the part and raise mischief together at the end of each session.

As Marlene and Ursula discuss the workshops, Bett and I picked up Kay, our oldest writer, at the train station. At three, we will return for Marian. And Ramona arrives this evening late.

And so begins the second year of writing workshops in the south of France in the village of Castelnau, in our home. All is well.

Friday, August 06, 2004

It is Friday, early afternoon, and Rob and I have been into Gaillac to market where I bought some lovely yellow flowers to make the house pretty. In just a few hours I will leave for the airport at Toulouse to pick up Marlene and Bett. I am almost ready for them. I want everything perfect and of course, it never is but still, I come as close as I can.

Yesterday, I scrubbed and oiled and waxed and the main floor of the house shines. Gill wrote me a note in which she said: "I walk into the kitchen and see an abundance of fruit. I go into the bathroom and the sink shows me my reflection. The house looks beautiful. My mother darts around the house dashing down to clean up dirt. I crave words with her but my mouth is dry."

And further in the note she says " Did you know I have your hands? I've always been fascinated by my own hands, and the other day I made the connection. Our veins poke out and they seem focused and alive, a tanned goldish colour. They write, they move, they poke, they prod; they pick at the remains of salad from the bowl. It will be hard not to use mine in trying to nurture you or give you pleasure: unable to make you a salad or a sandwich to bring down to your little house."

Why have I been graced with such a daughter?

Yesterday morning I woke grumpy and yes, I admit, hung over and slightly miserable and the voices in my head were ugly. Rob and I went to a dinner at Christine and Stan's the night before with a another couple from the village and Stan's dad - a charming fellow from Newcastle. But the problem was the woman of the other couple. I find her loud and abrasive and why I should try to debate with her about money is beyond me. I was no match. I hate myself when I become emotional and can't find my neutral voice. I sound like a fool, no worse. I sound stupid and if there is anything I don't like to sound is stupid. I embarrass myself. I wish I could learn to keep my big mouth shut. (Where are my friends, the people who understand me, who can put into words that which I can't when I need them?)

But that was only a small note in the day. I had too much to do to dwell on small minds, small matters.

I am organized, I think, for the writing sessions. The house is ready. The pick up times arranged. The mid week feast arranged at a local restaurant. The breakfast croissants arranged.

I am so looking forward to the company of women writers and being forced to apply myself. I have been too scattered, too absorbed with other tasks.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

I have been lax writing my journal, feeling that I am boring, my writing disjointed, lean. I am receiving the most pleasure from cleaning, preparing for the workshop. What does that say about me?

What can I tell? The days have been hot, hot, where every step taken is an effort. Yesterday, Bedding and I went to Toulouse to IKEA for curtains, and odds and ends. (I thank the heavens for air-conditioned cars and stores.) In the evening, Susan and David came over for an easy meal of Toulouse saucisse and salad. Today, they leave town for ten days. Susan for the Aude to stay with friends who own an ancient tree farm, back to nature folk who don't believe in water flowing from a tap indoors or even porcelain toilets. David for his university in Sterling.

After dinner, Susan and I climbed to La Vierge. It is so lovely sitting on her base, even when the evening is hot. The virgin's outstretched arms provide a certain comfort - a good place for women I think. When Susan leaves, Gill and Shirin arrive and ask me if it's normal to be disillusioned by men at their age. They were invited to a barbeque but their date didn't show. "We've been stood up," they tell me. Soon after, Michael - son of Basil and Clare - appears with a bottle of champagne. He is their wayward date and redeems himself by saying he has been looking all over the village for them.

They leave together and Clare appears. Susan sent her, at my request. I love Clare's company. She is yet another friend who doesn't mess with niceties, who speaks from the heart, who makes me laugh at the absurdities of life. She is also a fine poet, who is married to a difficult man, has a mentally challenged daughter, and has just been through a year of chemo therapy and radiation for breast cancer.

And so we sit under Mary until Rosetta, a neigbour, former mistress of the mayor, arrives with a fellow. They are shocked to see someone there so Clare and I, our sacred spot invaded by this man, wander down to the bar for perrier - two bottles each. Will any of my friends believe me when I tell them that it is too hot for wine?

The night became wild. The sky was filled with flashes of lightning and thunder and then then the blessed rain came. Hopefully our days will now be cooler. (I ran up to the attic - the girls were still out - and found that only one corner of their space was leaking. Not bad after the last episode. Hopefully Stan will return to fix it.)

This morning I went to my favourite bench at the edge of the village, coffee cup in hand, and looked over the landscape that was obscurred by fog. It reminded me of the opening scene in Brigadoon - a magic land that is only accessible on occasion.

Today, Rob and I will buy fresh fruit and vegetables in the town square. I sit writing at the Bar, sipping a coffee, as the local farmers and artisans set up stands. Christian, the pate man, passes and blows a kiss my way.