Friday, June 21, 2019

Weight




I smiled at her right before she stole my phone. 

Her, the pick-pocket. Dyed blond and young. "She would be prettier," I had thought, "without such pronounced eyebrows." A la mode, those heavily-drawn features that have nothing to do with Liz Taylor, Ava Gardner. My heroines of glamour.

I had just posted on Instagram with a photo that I thought quite smart. In the subway, a poster that had originally been an ad for Chanel - oh, that iconic bottle - but with many layers of other advertisements scratched and torn above or below it. Nothing is simple in our modern times. How tired I felt, but I had seen something interesting and that always does me good. And besides, I was in the City of Light. With a twinge of worry I thought of Christophe, whom I was going to meet. This is our dance, l'Express Avignon-Paris, le Paris-Avignon. He lives here, I live there. I dug into my bag and grabbed for the lipstick that I had thrown in at the last minute, a little too pink. But I dabbed it on in my blurry reflection of the métro window with a steady hand but clucking inwardly at the shadows drooping beneath my eyes ("Will he see them?" I wondered. He did, it's clear, but gentleman that he is said nothing.) As I rubbed my lips together with a pop, I felt someone slide into the seat next to me. Me, puffy and overheated in too much clothing (Hello, beginning of menopause), my roll-on awkward between my knees, my tote lop-sided on top of it, I took up too much space. 

I smiled at this young gamine apologetically and shifted to make room as tourists do, trying to make myself smaller. It is then that I am sure, or just after, that her hand reached into my sagging coat pocket. And from there she stole my phone, leaving at the next stop. I had thought it odd that with a slight lift of her chin and nothing more her gaggle of friends had followed, silently. Some thirty seconds later, perhaps a minute at most, instinct kicked in and I reached for what was no longer there. 

It's funny that dance that we do when we lose something. We keep searching the same space as if the object will magically reappear or look to places that it could not possibly be, "just in case." But I knew. So I dragged myself and belongings off the train at the next stop, sweating profusely, to ask at the ticket booth what I should do. "You could go to the commissariat, but..." she smiled wanly and shrugged. "Ca arrive tellement, tellement souvent...tous les temps." And she is right, I had heard the announcement in several languages repeatedly over the speakers, "Attention, there might be pick-pockets onboard." 

The photos. With a wave of nausea, I realised that all of the photos of Christophe and I together, of Rome, of his recent surprise of an overnight stay in the Vaucluse...but mainly of us, laughing...were on the phone that I had foolishly not backed up onto the computer. Gone. I count on my photos to boost my memory problems and look at them when I am having trouble to soothe me. As I approached his apartment, the weight of that loss grew, as did the simple fact that the phone had been a gift of his part, given lightly despite the financial value, which had made the gesture all the more touching to me. 

Admittedly, I arrived on his doorstep with over-the-top drama. (Hello, beginning of menopause, part deux) "I have some bad news." I watched his smile of welcome melt and the corners of his mouth turn down. I ignored Noumea, his bijoux of a dog, who was jumping excitedly around me, tail wagging ferociously. "Your phone was stolen, I was pick-pocketed. I am so sorry." "No, your phone was stolen," he replied calmly. "Ok, well, sit down and we'll call who we need to call to get things sorted out."
It's interesting with Chris. When he is upset with me, which isn't too often, thankfully, he will rarely say anything right away and never with anger. So when, nearly an hour later, he quietly exhaled, "I thought that something terrible had happened...that someone had died," I knew that I had gone too far, had created an All About Me, out of guilt, or self-derision. I apologised to have scared him so. A loss about loss. 

And then began a loop de loop of paper trails and phone company pleading. Such moments are rarely simple in France, especially if you wish to keep the same phone number that you have had for years. I trotted to here and there, being told no or maybe, and was once caught in the rain, heavy ink drops on my coat, head huddled while passing couples pressed together under an awning, as if in a movie about Paris. But it was Paris. It is.

All of these efforts were tiring, so we decided to have an early apéro. The rain said goodbye; the sun came out. We found a table at Café Chéri where the bijoux dog could find space at our feet. Chris and I. Right there, the surrounding crowds forgotten. Nothing between us. Not the siren call of a texto or an Instagram count to check for likes. I couldn't have anyway, for that girl, that deceptive blond, had stolen my phone. I felt giddy all of the sudden. And truly, think about it...how often does one feel giddy these days? Internally, I was exclamatory. "The light on the trees, was it ever that bright? My goodness, look how everyone is walking with faces down, affixed to their portables. How do they not run into each other? Would they notice if they did?" The birds were chirping something that sounded suspiciously like, "Free, free, free." I looked at Christophe. He was telling me a story. I held his gaze and let a certain weight - not necessarily linked to any other - burn off with the last drift of the day gone by. Good for good, and surprisingly, happily, done.




And as today is La Fête de la Musique tonight in France...a bit of something sweet and nostalgic that seems right to me for this post.



Happy Solstice...
Happy Summer (or Winter!)...
I am, as always, so very grateful that you are still here reading even as time goes by.

With Love from Provence,
And joy in my heart,
Heather

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Eternal City






"I have a proposal for you..."

"...Ok...?"

"What would you think about...for your vacation time...of...going with me to...Rome?"

"Yes."

It was out of my mouth as soon as I heard the word.

Rome. The Eternal City.

My response, was, what they would say in French, une évidence. Of course, I would go to Rome with Christophe. If I had travelled the world, - lucky me - and yet had never been, the reason was quite simple. I had been waiting to go with him.

He has come into my life like something like a fire-bomb, one that burns in the very best way. The first night that we spoke on the phone, it was until 2am. The second? 5:30. Rooster-crowing time. And so the connection began.

He lives in Paris. I live in Provence. And yet we somehow see each other nearly once a week. Or try our best to do so. I am broke from the train tickets and yet grateful. That was the word I used this morning, in speaking to the owner of my studio flat. She is one of my guardian angels. "Grateful to the Universe?" she asked. "Yes. Exactly," I replied.

And so to Rome.

He doesn't travel like I do, preferring to get up when I usually go to bed in order to take the first flight out. And so I felt a little blurred around the edges as I stepped out of the Termini Train station. Walking head held high because this is Rome after all, and realising with the turning of gazes that the weight that I have put back on (yes, its true, all of it) is actually a good thing in Italy if not in stick straight France. Mamma mia.

And somehow that bubble of non-reality never quite popped. Arrival on the morning of the 22nd, departure on the evening of the 26th. Four quick nights, and no, I won't tell you about those nights. Those are mine. Those are ours.

But the evenings? They were my favorite. It had been my hunch, somehow, but how could I have known? Maybe I have been to la bella Roma before after all, another lifetime ago. To walk and walk those cobblestone streets. To turn a corner and find the Pantheon looming above me, Jack and the Beanstalk-like as tears of surprise rose like the columns lit in a pale golden light. We leaned on each other when we got tired. We kissed and never got gelato.

He planned it all, having lived there last year and only very recently haven given up trying to start a business, too complicated, too frustrating. So he knew what he enjoyed and suspected where I would feel the same. It is amazing how right he was.

The Eternal City.

One could say that Love, with the big L, is the true Eternal City and Rome is an expression of that. Love in all its deep complexities, Rome in love with itself. Christophe and I were in the midst of all that, bouncing around in taxis through numerous piazzas, politely ignoring the well-intentioned texts declaring what we "must" do, knowing that each Rome is personal. In my photo dispatches my beautiful Mother and Sister exhaled, "you look blissfully happy," just as my friend Gérard responded, "you have a glass of wine in your hand in every single one." Both were right.

My joy, my love and my gratitude to Christophe. And to Rome.
For there is only one first time for everything, and this first felt both newer and older than the monuments, full of nothing but beauty and absolutely all that is good.

Grazie, grazie mille.
















Sunday, November 18, 2018

Beyond words




It is hard coming back to this space. And I never thought that would be the case. But sometimes it is important for us to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

When I open up Lost in Arles, I am in direct contact with my past. And while the vast majority of what I have tried to express over the past eight years is in the realm of beauty or happiness, I have also been through so much as of late. I understand; yes, as we all have, each in our own way, I am so aware of it - and yet what I choose to share is a specific prism of my experience. There is the question of respect for others, which is seriously a tightrope tendu, and what is appropriate for me as well.

There have been times when I did not know where I would sleep for the next two weeks, two days. In France, they call the homeless "sans domiciles fixes" - without a home address - and while I was never on the street, that was certainly my case. A wanderer can sound romantic, save when it is enforced and not chosen. Out I went, looking for answers, held quite safe, even at the last moment, truly and mercifully by my anges gardiennes, especially the human ones who took me in, here on the ground.

We don't know the story. Even when we think that we do.

It can be that way communicating with the people that I meet. You could think, perhaps, that after 17 years of living overseas, my French would be just about perfect, but you would be wrong. The locals are often surprised when they learn that I have been here for so long for my accent is still so strong and my written French still so poor. It puts me in a certain category. I never had the money to take the appropriate classes at La Sorbonne in Paris nor the time, either, as I was off and traveling the world....memories which seem like whispers, like strips of silk wind born to me now. Did that really happen? Did I really travel to Africa with the insouciance as if I were headed to the supermarket? Even all that is the beginning of this blog...did that really happen? Did I have Ben and my ex and I were so in love? I think so.

But how could I have known?

And yet, the proof, knowing is not everything.

Our brain keeps thumping, thumping along, churning out thoughts and doing its job, building structures or containers within which we are to organize our life.

It's funny because I have met some truly interesting men along the way over the past year who were willing to meet me on a soul level...there have been many moments that were fiercely sensual and others that were equally isolating. At times, all we can do is some sort of gestural, whimsical pantomime of approximations when a conversation comes to an impasse because we can't exchange verbally in our home language in the manner we both deserve. Someone is always dumbing down and that can be...disappointing. My friend Gérard kind of assumes that I am somewhat of an artist (he is an established one) but he is guessing on a hunch, for these words here hold absolutely no meaning for him, nor do my published articles. It is endlessly frustrating as I have always had une idée that the breadcrumbs left on the blog in a text or photos are something deeply telling when it was, at best, capable of moving you. Or me. Or us both.

Something beyond words.

And yet they can't grasp what, hopefully, you have previously. They can't know. This is often what it is like, finally, to be an expat. Certainly one who is not held within the comforting embrace of a couple. So much of me falls to the floor non-received, les pages imprimées mais pas vu, so that everyday I grieve a little. Just a little. There is a peace to be made with not only all of the shared understanding that is lost but also all of the subtleties of who we are, here.

The eyes can only communicate so much.

Music is better.

And yet there is a new door opening. One where I am now teaching English and at university level at that (this on top of my other full-time job). Admittedly, I have no idea of what I am doing. Every class feels as though I am jumping out of a plane, still doing the test tug on my parachute as I fall.

What can I still communicate?

They are young, you know. Most of them are looking towards me for some bite of the positive apple, if not only education. But can I still do it? Pass the words, light them up and watch the fireworks with no uncertain joy?

Again, as always, I feel my way as I go. Lately, I tell myself before getting out of bed, "Just do the best you can."

And here? Some part of me doesn't want to give this up. A blog, outdated in idea, yes, but I have you, our community, still. And I am fiercely proud of who you are...not to mention deeply moved by the emails that I have been receiving.

"Are you ok?" they ask. Well, yes, I suppose that I am but my life these days is little beyond work. Dating is challenging not only for the above-mentioned reason but also as a matter of sheer logistics. My one dear friend, Tina, has moved to live by the sea. Even my ex told me over a lunch, "You knew it would take time to rebuild a life in France." He was right.

But there is perspective always to be gleaned. My Sister, so filled with pride after my first classes asked, "Could you possibly have imagined if someone had told you a year ago that you would be teaching at a university? You wouldn't have believed them." And she too is right; I was on the floor then. Maybe I am up on one knee now. Looking upwards, even if I still do not feel secure enough to dream.

It doesn't necessarily change much, these configurations of letters and images that might be printed on a page...certainly in the midst of such daily tragedies on a global scale. But horizons are exactly that, open-ended...so, where do I go from here?

I am not sure if I am going to keep this blog going, which is very hard indeed to admit. Heart-breaking, actually. Something you will understand if you know me well. I never would have thought. Never, ever, ever would have thought.


There is still that little part of me that is calling like the sea, song to the siren, to move beyond this moment, this doubt, in order to discover what lies ahead. That which is cast out upon the water will roll back again with the tide, eventually.

I have waded through endless amounts of fear.

If I find you in the waves, so be it. 

Let the past wash upon the rocks, for hopefully, it will not break us, or me.




 I have used this song before on the blog, but it applies and differently now to how I loved it before. 
"I am actually good..."



 ...and still here.


With gratitude no matter where this goes,
You have held me with Love,
I know that to be true,

Be well,
Heather


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A lighter fire





How do we do it? When we try to love again, to let them know what matters to us without constantly second guessing how we go forward from here?

It's not his fault. He has to pick up his daughter from a month long summer vacation at just what happens to be my birthday. Or thereabouts. And yet, in my family, The Birthday is sancrosanct. So what do I do?

I will celebrate in my own way. And yet this feels important. Just as does the pause in which he seems hesitant to introduce me to his friends, his family. I've noticed.

Listen, I am actually not asking for advice although it touches me that you want to take care of me. But perhaps we can remember together that we have to find our own way. Shaky waltzes and all. Trusting as we turn into the air.

It is hard to accept that perhaps, within that dance, I perceive that I am resolutely at a "lesser" place than I was a year ago, singing positive even while still so unsure. The notes ring false to my tuned ears. And I wrote about this last year too, and probably the year before. I am physically sick of this recurring doubt ebbing against resilience. But this is it, how we live, how we move. So called "mistakes" pump through us like our very blood, as do our everyday victories. Because where I will return to is all that I truly want, which is to be creative again. My breath, my love, my light. May it shine through me like a lighter fire than all that still burns (darkly), past present, and yet not, with my wild heart, irrevocable.

How do we do it? How do I encorporate someone within this sizzled wire dream? Can I let this lighter fire be fuel for all that I no longer need, to see where I can possibly go? On my own but with another something hopeful, somewhat in tow?

I don't know. But I am asking, throwing a cigarette that I don't smoke (and I don't) to the fire, to see where it will blow.


***

I loved what I wrote above. I usually write very quickly but that was so important to me, short as it is, that I worked on it for days.

One of the things that I understand now is that I did second guess, and constantly. I would ask questions like, "Do I deserve your love?" over and over for, as different as we are (and I pointedly made that clear too), I have never, ever, been treated so well by anyone.

We broke up two days ago.

Such a good man.

I wish all Peace, all Joy to him. I wish the same for me too.



Happy Birthday to me (rebirth day?), soon, 49.
Thank you dearly for all of the support of my beautiful family and community.
I love you so much,

Heather


Friday, July 27, 2018

Floating




I was the one who suggested that we go swimming. Because it was just too hot. Even for Provence.

Hastily, I had balled up a swimsuit to throw into my overnight bag, just in case, some sort of instinct pushing hope to the forefront. Wouldn't it be lovely if. And yet once my proposal had been accepted and readily by the man that I am seeing with a casual "allez" (in that long drawl he has sometimes), I realized that it was time to actually put on that suit and assume it. It had been a year since I had tried. A year ago, when one of my ange-gardiens (you know who you are) would assure me out of my near homelessness as if it were nothing on her beautiful estate.

Hard times do not always make one lean. Despite my still healthy eating, I have put on weight. Or back on to be more precise. Is this normal for the course at a hiccup away from 49? Is it hormones (I just had a blood test done so will at least have a response for this possibility)? Such a hard subject for me, where my desirabilaty (or lack of) was...the reason cited for a very important turning point in my life.

In the heat of his bedroom, I stretched and pulled the nylon of my suit, suddenly also aware that my legs weren't shaved. My belly balloned so that my breasts were less covered. All of me wanted to shut down, to cancel, but he called me, "On y va, my sweet?" and so with a gasp or a sigh, I am not sure which, I quickly buttoned a white shirt and shorts, shuffled on the espadrilles and bundled into his camionette.

He is a good driver and I need that reassurance after the accident that was the beginning of the end of my last relationship; one that has left me jitterish as a passenger. But with the windows down, and some sort of beautiful music playing, usually un air africain, I feel safe. As we went, I forgot my hesitations, only reminded by the trickle of sweat running down my spine trapped by nylon. And then, carving through the base of the rockiest part of the Alpilles, we arrived.

I won't tell you the address. In true provençal style, it is not indicated on the road, this lake, fresh with water from the spring, and yet there it is. Don't idealize it please, for even in its small form, it is already annecdoted with a "snacking", a tiny fake beach and even a Zepyr line for waterskiers. He sensed that me, so private, tensed.

"On peut aller plus loin, d'accords? Trouver un petit coins tranquille. Ça te va?" Yes please for a place beyond. In my fatigue these days from my work I am not always as tolernant of crowds and crave peace even in public.

We found it. It really was not obvious. A barely there trail leading down to the water at the farthest reach of the lake as the rest of the alcoves had already been taken under such a fiery hour. But somehow, he spied that tiny scrap of land that was shaded (needed for me). The ground is shale and under my espadrilles the rocks slid too easily. I held on to the tiniest branches to guide my way; they snapped under my clutch. He hacked away others to make room, always a gentleman.

Where we perched, I cracked open a beer so cold, me who never drinks it save for under such circumstances when only that particular bubbly will do. Holding onto the tree umbrella-ing above our heads, I tipped my toes into the water.

Warm. And so off with the clothes, although not the self-awareness.

The rocks on the edge, leading in, were slightly painful to touch with my now city feet. "Dive in! All at once!" he encouraged from the sidelines. I did my version of the Américaine and tip-toed out beyond the depths of my reach.

Until I inhaled deeply, and plunged into the black blue cold.

I am not a good swimmer. Me, a double Leo lion, swims with her head above water. And so I did. Save that finally, I was too tired. So I flipped over on my back. My body, this again belly, buoyed me up. To the last rays of the sun, to the looks that the man that I was with was giving me so gernerously from the shore. I gave in.

For some moments, yawning divine, I felt held by the water. And for the first in many months, I thought of absolutely nothing. He swam out, not to find me but to roam. He went far, into the last rays of the day. But he turned back. And with determined strokes, his head rose and fell across the water until he reached me, found, floating.


****

Thank you for being here,
Please be really kind to yourself.
With love and gratitude,
Heather

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Attached




We all feel the need to be attached to something, to keep us from floating, boundless as if on the surface of the moon.

But to what? And to whom?

The man that I am seeing has a daughter who is turning ten. I took them out for lunch yesterday to celebrate and tried to breathe through the periods of silence. I understand when she clings to his arm and looks at me, only slightly defiantly but nonetheless with a claim, "mine." I gave her a bracelet of carnelian stones falling long on her tiny wrist. I wonder if she will wear it or if it will be discarded, forgotten. What could it - or I - possibly mean to her? Having no experience with children, absolutely none, ever, I am nervous on these occasions. I simply try to breathe and be present, knowing at the very least to talk to her on the level she wishes, which is quite a serious one. Only rarely do I receive her smile.

Will this coupling last long enough that I will gain her trust? I am still working on gaining my own, also with a claim, "mine." For me. I find the terrain underneath my feet wet, then dry and smoothe, then burning deep under this particular heat.

At ten, who did I belong to? The wind, the trees, certainly, but also to the letters that were my pearls linked in a row as books opened worlds that I could not have possibly dreamt. We had moved to a very big Victorian house but rather than roam its rooms, 23 in number, I would hide in my oak-lined closet to read for hours on end. There, I felt centered and knew I was where I belonged. Hidden amidst the lives of others, I learned.

Again in these past days, I am finding refuge in novels as if looking for clues. How to be, what to believe in, both in the grand scheme and the minutiae. I don't think that I quite realized how very long it would take to build something anew that I could attach myself to. And there is still, two years in, no solid structure in my life that reassures. That is a very long time to hold one's breath and hope for the best. For now, the only link I really trust enough to put my weight into is the oldest one within me, love.

Mais malgré tout, j'ai toujours des questions. I think it is normal, considering the present logistics and the recent past. Who truly loves me? Who do I truly love? What makes me sing? Where do I go to live my dreams? This is my daily life. Every single morning I awake with questions in my head, thoughts racing, sometimes regrets, usually fatigue but also with quieter songs of comfort and pride.

Oh, how I do feel that I am holding on to the balloon of "me" to be tethered to the ground. This girl, this redhead girl with blue eyes, still, in essence, at ten. Attached is where my heart goes. To remind me, beating, that I am not only this eternal loop of asking. These letters, forming words are the ribbon. How I wonder at the possibility to just...let them go, to let it all fly...free.
 



°°°°

PS. This was my 700th post.




Saturday, June 9, 2018

A spring song, a quiet song




There has been a lot of rain this spring. It has been an unusual time and the storms have often been violent. I rarely see them coming. The man that I am dating makes things grow and I have learned through him to watch the clouds form and shift, into something beautiful or something dangerous. A hail storm arriving at the end of a previously sunny day can wipe out an entire years crop in twenty minutes. Just as too much humidity can tempt a certain insect to prosper overnight, leaving a field of strawberries that cannot be sold in its wake.

And yet life remains in bloom. The pears are on the trees, budding forward, filling form, bulbous.

Sometimes I pray to scatter the clouds. And sometimes I watch in wonder and let them be.

It is deeply humbling. This knowledge that there is always shadows, always light. It keeps repeating like the echo of approaching thunder, like the whisper of love in the crook of my neck.

And yet we don't always wish to acknowledge that both exist, permanently...en permanence, un à côté de l'autre...that there is no dividing line, no simple answer. Save for when sometimes, divinely, there is. We all have our own moments of precious gifts, shining. A breath, a reprieve.

After my last post, or maybe the one before it, I received an Anonymous comment that I accidentally deleted but that has stayed with me. It was something along the lines of: "I was so happy to read what seemed like good news from you, until I realized that it wasn't...again." That disappointment. But I don't want to hide my struggles, whether real or imagined (typed with a wry smile) because this is also the conversation that we need to be having. Openly, honestly.

I am not seeing what I want to read after the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. There is much about what they accomplished but the act itself is often a link to a small article that is strict to the facts. Quotes from police examiners. Suicide by hanging...It makes my heart drop and tears rise just to type those three words. For I have great empathy that their struggles reached that point of no return, having known what is mercifully (and I use that word specifically) chronic low-grade depression most of my adult life but also periods that were dangerous, and life-threatening.

We have to move away from the shame in our society about depression and mental illness. We are seeing that now. Losses...out in the fields or within our hearts...are a wakeup call. Let's listen. It is only through acknowledging openly the darkness when it arises, if it arises, that we can continue to grow. To hear a spring song, perhaps sung quietly, but in the tune of our own true voice.


   




  

 






 It is my Sister who encouraged me to write this post after a discussion late last night. Thank you, Robin. I love you so much.
For anyone who is directly or indirectly touched by depression or mental illness, please reach out. We are here for you.
Because we are all in this together.


With much Love and Gratitude, 
always,
Heather

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rising and falling like breath



"What is built up, what is torn down, what remains," I say to describe what interests me the most in my work. Patina. In the immediate, on the surface and in ourselves. Save that there is no work. I am not writing and these are the few photos taken with my new camera which was bought with such hope in my wings. I am too tired from my day job to create. I cannot find the words, as much as I would like to, and that makes me very nervous. Pacing-like. Save that life is not always simple, there is light always too amidst the shadows that ache, and so I can throw like a flare against the sky, four words:

I have met someone.

Yes. I know you are happy for me. I can feel some of you clapping your hands, or raising them to your lips in little prayer, an automatic gesture. And even in the knowing of that, I am blessed.

Because here is the thing. Even when love comes calling...in all its beauty beyond divine...I now know that my own well-being is up to me. I cannot only be alive within another's arms, even if I feel the comfort with a recognition that makes me cry. He is. And he is beautiful.  But it is for me to find my way forward. With him, without him. Or together. On we go, with what we build up, what we tear down, what remains. It is so complex and yet so simple. Rising and falling like a breath.




 

 

 



Let me know how you are. I miss you.