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.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Room for Joy




It is funny the moments that stand out, illuminated, after all is said and done. Sometimes, often with me, the smaller they seemed, the deeper that I feel them.

I woke up on the Christmas tree farm in a jet-lag haze, emotional to be once again in that bed that had held me during the most difficult of times. In lifting the blinds (I have to stand on the chair to make them stick, wobbly), I saw frost on the grass, orange early sun glistening and my Sister's car churning to warm up under a Michigan winter.

So, I hadn't yet missed her, she still hadn't left to teach her classes. She works so very hard, Robin. My Dad would have been so proud. I am too.

The staircase in the farmhouse is steep and so I gripped onto the polished wood railing while running down the stairs to try and catch her in my ski-socks feet. Through the living room, past Sweetie and Lucy, the dogs that I am so delighted to see again (and relieved, for neither are spring chickens), sliding across the kitchen floor and with a bang of the screen door behind me, I catch her. She looks at me with surprise.

"Have a great day!! I love you Sister!!" She is already getting into the car, she has to go but she is smiling and shouting back to me quick wishes in return. I know that she is really happy that I am home. And because my love for her is over-flowing and I want to make her laugh, or maybe because it is really, really cold out and I am in my pyjamas, I start to bounce around like I am on a pogo stick. Boing, boing, boing, boing. Hair flying, my breath in tendrils in the air as I am laughing. And then she has driven off to start her day.

I have countless such examples in my head, my heart, from my visit to see my beautiful family.




You know, I don't want to say something along the lines of, "this love is always there,"  - even though it is - because I struggle too. And it is to the motion of that struggle -  the flip side of the coin of my bouncing - that I want to say, "wait. No really, wait." For now back in France, even newly returned from being so loved, I have woken up quite differently, twice in tears this week alone with exhaustion from my current job and longing for the creativity that makes me sing loud songs of freedom. I look at the professional camera body that I bought in the States that I haven't yet touched - the biggest purchase of my life - with something edging towards bitterness, for which I sound the alarms.

"Wait. No really, wait." Because, can I be brave enough to turn the question that has been burning inside me into a statement? This one, the main theme calling to me...

It doesn't have to be this hard. 

Since I decided to try and stay in France, I have experienced much, little of it simple. "You are a warrior, " someone said to me recently. It isn't the first time I have been told so. But I don't wish to be a warrior anymore. I lay down my arms.

I had to go back to the old house the other day, my Ex welcomed me smilingly. He has grown so much in his new relationship, it is quite something to see. It was shocking when he opened the gate, for it was the Dday of pruning both the massive olive and magnolia trees that shadowed over our lives for years. A mountain of twisted branches and blackened olives slippery underfoot. Kipling, my crazy amazing dog that I had not seen since last September (we won't go into that now) covered me with kisses. And he is not the kissing kind.

There was light, and there was...there is...room for joy.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Behind Vincent's garden



I needed fortification. Not only of a safe place but also a bit of strength to open up my lungs within that solid structure. And so I listened to my instinct, that voice ever whispering with the best of intentions, and despite my physical fatigue, hopped on the bus to St. Rémy. 

I have an odd relationship now with this village that is not really a village. I can both sense the potential of a shadow future for me there extending outwards, while well aware of the phantoms of the past, even if they are along the lines of Casper the Friendly Ghost. So it felt, as I slid into the booth at the Café Tabac, having been welcomed by the owner with his steely memory and smile; for once, I had been a fairly regular customer. 

It was the first time eating there on my own, and as it was cold with the Mistral insistent, I splurged on the gigot d'agneau served with a separate terrine of potatoes dauphinoise. A small pitcher of red. All for warmth. I was served two slivers cut off from the copious cheese board while waiting for my dishes to arrive, a little nod of recognition that did not go unnoticed by the couple in direct proximity to my left. 

We started talking. It is one of the things that I am most proud of these days, in this new life, that now, apparently, I can converse easily with anyone (or perhaps it is not so new but a remembering for my Mom says that when I was little I found new buddies wherever I went.) They unveiled their story. Friends (but with a palpable tension hinting otherwise), they were close as their respective others had left them for the respective other...of the other, after many years of marriage. And so they had banded together, at first in their grief and now in something still to be defined. She, with died orange hair and a leopard print coat and he, dignified in cashmere covering a sharp wit, made an odd couple. But a connection is a connection, not to be denied.

Mine is with nature. 

Filled up on conversation, I headed out into the cold, only slightly wondering why I had chosen this day of all to walk. But the heart needs what it needs. Out to Vincent's garden I went, to the asylum that fills me with peace each time that I visit. I left the sidewalk to cut through the olive groves that he had painted and over to the paths poking fingers extended into the forest of the Alpilles. I felt linked to him in my need to drink in the vibrancy present, for me of a burgeoning spring, for him of an interior autumn. For both of us, certain storms played out to greater and lesser degrees amidst the contrast of a landscape beauty filled. 

I walked until I could only hear breathing - mine and that of the trees. 

Standing still in a golden light, a gift always, I saw myself again, seated at the Café Tabac. And next to that Heather, I saw the Heather of only a few years before settled in next to my ex. She was listening. Not talking. She was pretty and interesting but silent as the conversation flowed around her. So different from the Heather of today, who had provoked as well as consoled, and yet with the same foundations. But everything has changed. I had written during that lunch in my journal, "I am redrawing the map of my heart." 

Behind Vincent's garden, standing on land that I had walked many times, I saw a territory familiar, a fortification of the oldest stone, and yet one full of promise. As with my tortured painter friend, despite the challenges present, I am still able to see the possibilities of hope in its many-colored hue.


 









I walked back to town filled with knowing, one that I carry with me now, wherever I go.


With Love and Gratitude, always,
Heather

PS. I know that so many of you wish me well, I feel it. So a bit of good news to share...I am taking the plane to Michigan next week to be with my family. I am thrilled...

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The dating pool





You might have guessed.

But just in case you haven't, I will admit it. I am starting to date again.

I know.

I signed up for a site here called "Adopt un Mec" (yes, adopt a guy) where the woman gets to be proactive, but still...all of my insecurities are coming back up. Popping like popcorn and I definitely feel on the fire. Tears have fallen. But there have been moments of fine delight too.

Last Sunday, it was warm enough for my date and I to have a glass of wine in the sun on a café terrace. We would talk and then hold each others gaze. It was within that look where words were not needed that inspired me to lean over and kiss him. He hadn't seen it coming. It was such a good kiss that an elderly man walking by stopped to say, "Bravo. c'était beau ça." We laughed and I shooed our observer away.

I have worked so hard to get here. Even if I am at times struggling mightily not to slip back into old patterns of being - and most certainly to risk in trusting again - I feel sparks of pride too. For I am trying, not always doing and I took over a year to just be with me. I didn't rush and as much as long to be held, I do not want to fall into anyone's arms either but act knowingly.

It is such a waltz of advance and retreat.

The most confusing element for me is disappearance. A contact will start to be established, launched by the man, and when "the mayonnaise starts to take hold" (as they say here), poof! No further sign of life. It has happened so much that I finally asked some of my guy friends about it and they responded that some people just want that reassurance, to know that a certain woman finds them interesting.

Admittedly, I stumble too and patience has never been my strong point. I can reveal far too much too soon if I am interested in someone but I also can blow my lips in frustration if it feels like making conversation is akin to pulling teeth. I have had far too many messages that say simply, "Comment ça va?" and I don't really know what to do with those, well-intentioned as they may be. There is a musician who has left me his phone number, I don't know why I haven't called him yet.

This is not completely new. I was seeing someone for three months and did not write about it here as he is an exceptionally private person. I can be too. It is a line that we all find, over and over again.

It feels strange and wonderful and vulnerable to be meeting men anew after so many, many years with my ex. And yet, oh how I love them. Men. There is the age issue. I have been contacted by a lot of younger men and conversely I am not 100% confident about sharing this 48 year body yet, especially with men my own age. Sometimes it feels like work to write in French when I don't want it to and long to just jot off a quick reply in my mother tongue. We shall see were this goes, if it even, finally, goes anywhere.

The question is: Can I do this and remain true to my own sweet self? I don't know yet...


 


But I wanted to share this, just in case you hadn't guessed. I am starting to date again.