Thursday, March 29, 2007

Little Yvonne


Usually on my birthday, I feel happy content frivolous. I tell myself that nothing negative can touch me. The important thing is that I let myself be, feel what I feel, don't chastise myself for anything.

And if you know me, you know that I'm a pretty harsh judge of myself. Everything has to be examined for an ulterior motive.

"You're not going to fool yourself - let alone anyone else - that you're a good person, kind, and generous," that horrible demeaning voice whispers in my ear.

And the child within me says that it isn't fair, that really she is good and kind, and yes, she did trick her young friend once, told her that a quarter was a nickel and then talked her into giving it to her. (See the guilt written all over the face of the child, lower left - that was the day.) And over fifty years later, she still feels guilty.

How in the world could such a little girl feel so bad about such a small crime? She who tried so hard to please, to be good because she won her mother's affection by being well-behaved - or so her little brain thought

But somewhere around the age of forty, my definition of good changed. That was the time where I felt my life such a sham that I had to do something extraordinary or kill myself - and so I came to France with three children. And during that year, I discovered that writing was my true love. Through writing, I began to like the person who was once a guilty, careful, little girl.

Susan was my main support during that year. She wrote me, after one evening where I made a complete fool of myself, that the courage to be a fool is what she wants... this is what happiness is all about. Another time, she said that she had never met a person like me. How that filled me with happiness.

Again, I think of the line about not worrying about the good opinion of others.

I met a poet once who said that when she was young, she felt that anything that happened in her presence was hers to tell. As she grew older, she had become kinder.

One aspect of writing non-fiction is that it usually involves betrayal - an often discussed topic among writers. It's fine to expose oneself to ridicule but how dare one expose others, especially loved ones, to the same fate? But isn't everything deciphered, interpreted through the writer's heart and brain? And shouldn't everyone who is human realize this and not be offended when she reads about herself in another's story?

I have always admired Mordecai Richler for his blatant telling of the misadventures of others. Even his closest friends are not spared. Some call him cruel or worse, a user. But I call him a damn good writer.

And so it is my fifty-eighth birthday and I ask the heavens for more courage and endurance when I sit my self down to write because it is here I feel most free and excited.

But I love also the frivolous moments like one the other day when I went to Toulouse with Bedding and Hero and bought myself a pair of hot pink dancing shoes (that Bedding hated.) And with part of Gill's gift, I bought a hot pink scarf and silk stockings. I shall wear them this evening.

My Birthday

Early this morning I opened Gill's card and CD, filled with such admiration and love, I cried. And then I opened a number of emailed birthday messages and cried some more. It's my birthday.

Where did this wild young woman come from?

And continuing in my self-indulgent mood, here's the beginning and middle of a poem that I found by accident in a drawer this morning - so perfect. (Sunset Draws Sophia Down by Joan Logghe)

"It was the most beautiful spring,
the spring she couldn't decide
if she were happiest or saddest....

Some days she woke up a teenager
others, a grandmother.
She struggled between passion and despair
sadness that comes down
straight from the ancestors."

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Okay, I exaggerate a little though I feel like a glutton. This past weekend has been a time of feasting. On Friday night - in honour of Makiko's mother, Hero (or so Susan has shortened Heriko) - Susan and David prepared a roast leg of lamb dinner. On Sunday morning, we all went to Bedding's for a breakfast of museli, yogurt, eggs, toast, served with homemade preserves and steaming coffee. On Sunday evening, I made a beautiful salad (similar to the ones Ursula made several summers ago) with endives around the edge, filled with lettuce, red and green peppers, red onions, cucumber and tomatoes, followed by fresh pasta with a hearty vegetarian sauce. (Why is eating and drinking abundantly deadly? Why is gluttony linked with pride, sloth, wrath, envy, lust, and greed? Aren't all of these is some context good for a person?)

Bedding's Breakfast Table


And so I entertained for the first time in our grand new space. Susan thought it a crime that I was going to remove the "beautiful" old door between the kitchen and dining area and removing the "beautiful" old stone sink (ugly and useless as far as I am concerned) was practically a sacrilege; but when she came for dinner, she announced that she likes the new room with light from both sides and thinks the new brass faucet "a beauty". David appeared more reluctant to give his approval: he asked who was to get the "beautiful door". I responded "the most deserving."

I really truly love this other family of mine. I feel my world would be less rich without them. Last night Susan asked what I would like to do for my birthday. I said I didn't know but that it is always a special day for me. She then said "Fountainebleu" and I was filled with delight. I have always wanted to go there to see the art gallery and specifically one painting... but it is more complex than that... I cannot tell you why... suffice it to say, that being there would make my day extraordinary. (And then I worry. It would cost money to go and we don't have any at the moment. We're living on credit. Do I want to add more to our debt? Why do such opportunities arise when one is least able to afford them?)

And I really don't know if Susan was serious but even if it doesn't happen, I am pleased that she remembered this old desire of mine.

I have woken several mornings feeling so anxious that I want to cry but the strange thing is, I'm not sure what in my life is causing the anxiety.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A New Space

New Space

The builder's work is done and mine begins. Not magically but through a lot of hard work and a lot of patience on my end, the kitchen is linked with the dining room and we have one large room with light coming from both sides. The heavens know if the ceiling will fall. The builder said the old beam is solid. The architect said beware. But I love the space and only wish that the cleanup was easier. Rob spent his last few weeks here last fall, clearing the rooms for the demolition. I will spend the same time cleaning the dust off and putting all back in its space. I only hope it is done for my birthday next week.

I am tired. And unhappy only in the sense that I have not been writing for a few days. Ruth, an extraordinary musician just dropped in. This evening she is playing Don Giovanni in Castres. She says she would like to be one of those women who can work at what she loves and feel sane in the rest of her life. Is sane the right word? Balanced may be better. She wants serenity in the same way I want serenity. (We both need a muse.) She says that she can only do one thing at once. And though she loves her music, when she is concentrating on it, the rest of her life goes to hell. I feel much the same. Write and write only. Clean and clean only. Who are those writers who say that they are religious, that they sit and write 500 or 1000 words and then stop in mid-sentence and pickup where they left off the next day? I hate them. I told Ruth that we should just accept the way we are.

For several nights, I've slept at a friend's house - Bedding for those of you who know her. Her place is lovely, perfect, clean, warm. I woke several mornings ago and looked out the window. The largest snow drops I've ever seen were falling. It's freezing here. Today, I learned how to use our wood furnace. Rob and I replaced our old one last fall and this one is so much better though still it demands attention.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Under Construction

I had this dream long ago of creating one large room from the kitchen and dining room in our French house in which the light would warm the enlarged area from both sides, the fire in the dining area would heat the kitchen, and the space created would be large enough to dance in. I smile when I remember Marlene, Ursula, and I dancing from one small room to the next before dinner. The space has been created though the new sink has not been installed. This is a more difficult task than I imagined as the wall is a foot deep. Still the Dane that offered to do the work said it would take two men a week to complete the job. The problem is that they do not show up everyday and so I have been living without a kitchen and worse still, in a house full of dust. My eyes become redder and redder not from tears of frustration (though I have been on the edge more than once) but because I am allergic to dust. This has not won the sympathy of the Dane because, after the first day, he vanished, leaving only his workmen.

As I have had no kitchen, I dine in the evening with the Reids but last night, I felt I had worn out my welcome. This, I know, could just be me but I have decided, after tonight, I will eat in the local restaurant.

Three workers have just show up. Thank the heavens, I might be free of them soon... though I shall not get my hopes up.

Last night at Susan's we celebrated her eldest son's birthday with tall glasses of champagne and cake before a dinner of spicy lentil stew. Eating the sweet before the savoury felt rather decadent and child-like.

Justin's Birthday

It is tradition in Susan's family to make a crown of laurels for the birthday person but when Miki saw her father's crown, she wanted one too. (Justin, Makiko, and Miki have just arrived from Japan. Makiko's mother arrives Wednesday - all the more reason to leave the family alone for a while.)

Baby Miki

One good result from waiting for the workers every day is that it keeps me at home and so I have finished the bookkeeping for our company and done more than a little writing... some journal, some novel. And though I was going to copy some thoughts from my journal, I am distracted by the noise below and will continue at a later date.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"How Green is My Valley"

I am still recovering. Traveling for ten hours - first leg of the journey from Vancouver to London - in a confined space where one pays over a grand for the privilege is exhausting. All the airlines that I have traveled within the past few years - Air Canada, Air France, British Air, and KLM - have condensed the space between rows so even I who do not quite reach 5'2" feel cramped, especially when the person beside me is large and even more so when the person in front of me reclines his or her seat.

I arrived at Heathrow exhausted, went through a second security check, and then caught the short flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle where the seats on this shorthaul were leather, spacious, with ample leg room. (If only I could have had this plane for the first part of my journey.)

I thought I was smart reserving a room in an airport hotel - I am a little timid of Paris since I was robbed a year ago - but even though the hotel was luxurious (ordered through Hotwire) I was not able to sleep. In the morning, I lugged my suitcases down to the train for the journey into the city where I had to change to the Metro (several flights of stairs) and then catch the TGV to Toulouse.

Groan, groan, grumble, grumble.

Was it worth it?


Magic in the Village

I'd forgotten, though it has only been three months, just how lusciously green the valley surrounding my town is. This picture, with its white spots - soft raindrops - was caught as I walked down the hill to the little store where the woman who runs it is always the same - without a smile, she lifts her head from her laptop and utters the standard greeting "Bonjour Madam."

The Doctors Reid

Though I've spend many hours trying to catch up on my sleep (Rob says this is impossible) and cleaning and clearing our house for the renovation that is supposed to begin Monday, I have spend my evenings with the Reids. David, in the photograph is proudly showing me his sleek new MacBook. Susan and David, who have both recovered from their fall operations, always make me feel welcome. Susan was disappointed that I wasn't staying with them (she misunderstood my request to stay for a week when the house is rented) and has invited me to share all their evening meals. (Gill you would be jealous of the salads and artichokes, peppers, leeks, lamb and duck I've been consuming with our friends.) The produce here, even during the winter into spring months, is so fresh and good...

So here I am once again and though the house is not toasty warm - it's even damn uncomfortable a lot of the time - I have nearly recovered from the travel and am beginning to jot down ideas and write. (I told Marlene that I was afraid I wasn't going to get down to it but I want to stop being a scaredy-cat or is it a lazy-bum and simply write... cause I have friends who love and encourage me to pick up my damn pen because they know that I am never content unless I am making love... with words.) (Only words, dear Rob. But damn it all anyway, they can be pretty damn potent.)

"There is no fence or hedge around time that has gone. You can go back and have what you like if you remember it well enough." -- from Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"I'm late. I'm late..."

I didn't forget my middle child's birthday on March 3rd. Rob and I sent him, via FedEx, his guitar in a new hard case with a new set of strings so he could continue to play his music, sing his songs. He is a good musician and often - when he and Mackenzie were living with us - we would watch him from a window as he sat on the lawn, strumming this guitar and singing quietly.

Michael is 25 Years ago

Michael is "special" as he describes himself in a poem he wrote when he was around ten or eleven. Last night Rob and I watched the "Young Home Movie" that includes scenes from Michael's first birthday to his sixth. He was so sweet with his big glasses. Watching him on the television screen, along with his brother and sister, brought back so many memories. At one year, he wasn't walking. At three, he was break-dancing. By five, he had developed a love of magic (remembered by the really bad magician we hired for one of his parties.) He loved performing. Rob often recalls his devil sticks and how Michael played with them in the main square in Sienna and was filmed by a number of tourists. Perhaps it was in Italy that he developed a taste for fine cuisine.

By the time, he was into the two-digit numbers, he had perfected his father's caesar salad recipe and dreamed of making it, for one million bucks a bowl, for the rich and famous.

In his mid teens, he fell in love with our fancy computer, demanded his own, and taught himself computer animation so well that his art teachers in high school and later at Cap College, applauded his talent.

After college, he left the country, went to Europe and back-packed around for a while. When his parents ran out of money, he found a bar in England where he could work, travel, work, travel.

When he returned home, he found a job, moved into an artist's building, and started painting again - another love of his from high school. After meeting Mackenzie, he decided to hit the road again. They bought an old station wagon and drove to Montreal where they settled for a year before returning home.

They have since returned to Cobourg, Ontario, Mackenzie's home town.

Michael became angry with me not so long ago. He said that I was always pushing him to return to his art - in whatever form - and not loving him for who he is and what he is doing. He is both right and wrong. He has always brought his own unique vision and vivid imagination to his artistic endeavours - noticed by those more capable of judging than his mother - and I felt that he was letting himself down not pursuing his former passions. I thought perhaps he lacked self-confidence and needed encouragement.

Now I see that perhaps it is me who is passionate about "the arts" and that one can be creative in other ways, in other kinds of work. When it comes right down to it I know in my heart that it doesn't matter what he is doing, I love him for who he is - an extraordinary young man, with a big tender heart who has always loved animal; and wherever he's employed, works hard.

When I think of Michael, I think of the Steve Miller Band and the lyrics to "The Joker":
'Cause I'm a
picker, I'm a grinner
I'm a lover and a sinner
I play my music in the
I'm a joker, I'm a smoker
I'm a midnight toker
I sure don't want
to hurt no one'

Friday, March 02, 2007

"Others are impressed with your inner beauty." I just read Gill's latest blog and smile. She is so colourful, so full of life, and, at the moment, I feel black and white as I sit at my computer screen inputting figures until my vision blurs. I'm trying to do a year's bookkeeping in five days and it isn't easy. For the past two years I've had a friend do this work but this year, we can't afford it. Rob hasn't worked for five months and I haven't worked since June of last year - though that's a lie. We both have been working but not at work that pays.

I sigh as I tell myself that I should be doing the accounts all year so I don't have to do a marathon before tax time. But I didn't and know next year, I'll sigh again and think the same thing. And what right have I to complain I ask myself. On Tuesday of next week I'll be on my way to Paris, my favourite city in all the world. And I'm staying at a fancy hotel at the airport because Hotwire gave me an extraordinary deal and then I'm catching a train down south to our house.

We have a house in France, I whisper to myself and smile. We have a house in France. Sometimes that's all I have to tell myself to feel good.

I do feel good. This morning I had a tender moment. I lay in bed and watched Rob sleep. And now I find myself humming: "And even though we ain't got money/ I'm so in love with ya honey/ Everything bring a chain of love/ And in the morning when I rise/ Bring a tear of joy to my eyes/ And tell me everything's gonna be all right..."

Everything is going to be alright. I will finish the books. I will leave for a seven week writing marathon in the quiet of the French countryside. I will meet with friends occasionally and drink some lush and thankfully cheap red wine of the region. I will hopefully oversee some work on our house - my reason for going - and will return- "all being well" as my father says - to my love and then worry about money and finding work.

I am so blessed.