Monday, May 25, 2020

These first steps

I wish that I could say that I really knew what I was doing. Except that I don't lie to you, so I can't.

Yesterday morning, when I woke up...I felt literally pressed flat. Like a paper doll. And it wasn't just that weight that I have felt in my lungs since I was sick. Oh fuck, I really have been fighting against it for so long. But this isolation, so extreme, is one tough battle.

And yet I wrote the first of my twice-daily lists of gratitude. Five things that I knew to be good. Yes, even then and now. I do it everyday. No matter what.

Can you imagine that just seconds after sending off those thin, thin needles stitching appreciation, words of hello came scrawling across my screen. Exclamation points included. It was my dear K, checking in because she was in town and happy to meet.

So, what does that mean? I sent a text back to see. As this was her very first foray outside during the duration of the lockdown, we felt at ease to spend time together. And so we did. Take out sandwiches and social distancing by the empty fountain at the Place des Corps Saints. Under the shade trees, we talked for hours. I started to breathe into my full shape again. She admitted that she was no longer sure how to be social and I knew what she meant for I had already experienced that as well.

A few days before, I had received my first invitation, also via text. My friend V, who lives on a péniche, or barge on the Rhône, invited me over for une verre. Oh. I held my breath in thought for a moment. What is right? Was it worth it? I knew that we would be outside, so the risk was fairly minimal. I also knew how much I was suffering internally. And so I said, yes, yes, thank you. Merci.

I followed his directions over the bridges and down a dirt path until I arrived to this boat abracadabrantesque. Something of a gentleman's pirate ship. His cat, Manouche, was on guard. Truly, right at the end of the gangplank, me voilà, eyeing me skeptically. I did my best to be quiet and not overtly seek approval. I failed. Of course. I am a dog person.

V led the way to his upper deck which was dusty with lack of use. He briskly wiped down a table, brushed aside fallen leaves. It surprised me as this was exactly where I would want to be. Always. Sleeping, eating with only this open panorama for my eyes.  I perched on the folding chair a bit shakily, aware of the sweat stains under my arms from the brisk walk on top of nerves. Everything seemed too expansive and contracted somehow.

Down below he went and returned with the pop of a champagne cork.

I wasn't sure what to say to him. Suddenly, my french seemed more stunted than usual. So, between my jangly-boned outbursts, we were quiet. And it felt wonderful. To just let the river flow. It stretched out languidly, with confidence. The light shifted into subtleties. The trees sighed. Or...that might have been me.

Admittedly, I was willing to own my awkwardness. It was ok. It is. So many months of solitude have gone by.

I left as the clouds started to blush. It felt a bit bumbling of me as I did, excusing my departure although there was no need. Overly thanking him for that moment of peace. For a brief moment, I wondered if he was going to kiss me. He didn't. Just friends then. And safe. So, good.

This new not normal. Until we find ease, it will be touch and go. Maybe.

Tonight, one of my anges gardiens, invited me up to dinner on the roof. It was just us two ladies. And the sun did an exaggerated show; a slow, swan song as we each spoke of our respective...past. The Rhône, just beyond the fortified walls, seemed to carry our words away as needed. Others were left like scattered stars below the table where they fell. Venus rose, bone white and benevolent.

While D went to bring up pears poached in sweet syrup, I traced the echoes of a burning sky that spoke to all that we feel in this moment. I held my breath and silently laughed with joy when she returned, carrying a tray with candles, burning. Burning, to light up the dark.

These first steps. They feel so new. Will we arrive?

If you would like, you can hear an audio recording of this post: here.

Je suis désolée, mes amis francophones, il y a tante des idées que je ne sais pas traduire cette fois si. 

It's Memorial Day. I sat with this post for a while before publishing it. 
I am sending such gratitude for all of the men and women who died in battle. 
This is not the first day of Summer. It is a day of remembrance.

I will finish with this photo. It is of my main lettre d'attestation that I used for taking my "sanity walks" during the lockdown. Normally, we were supposed to fill out a new one each time that you went out but I am old school and liked the idea of having a document that was a testament to my First Steps into the unknown but with belief in my heart.

So much Love to you all. Truly.
As Edgar says, "Stay strong, stay safe, be well, be kind."


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Brighter on the inside

And now, now that I have the choice to move, everything feels all wrong.

I don't know how to explain it other than stating it really simply: I am scared of le déconfinement. 

Since Monday the 11th, my region in France is largely back to "business as usual." Not completely. Restaurants and cafés are still closed, larger stores and movie theatres. My job. But the rhythm has completely shifted. I could feel it building in the days beforehand like a heartbeat thumping louder and louder in my chest.

"Liberté!!!" was scrawled largely in posts all across Instagram on Monday. The energy felt desperate. It made me angry, confused.

Where do we go from here? Do we stay in? Do we go out but carefully? I have long been a believer of the first but I have been listening to those who lean towards the second. If I fought hard to stay in France it is also because I admire and adopt the French joie de vivre,  literally translated as "joy in living." "Will you never go to the farmer's market again? Really? Get fresh food? Support our farmers?" So I did, gloved and masked but I did. And how sweet the first cherries taste, how tart the tomatoes, the grassy perfume as I break them from the vine.

Is it worth it?

That is the question that I asked a friend of mine (at high risk) who was considering taking public transportation into town to get her hair done. Is it worth possibly dying over? Asked in that manner, the answer seems obvious (or so, at least, to me) and yet it is now a question that we can potentially ask ourselves throughout our day, every day.

It feels like lead, like kryptonite. So I am going to have to learn to live with this indecision to be able to feel free in my heart. Because I don't want to be frozen. Now more than ever I want to live. Of course I am going to want to support my friends when their restaurants re-open. Am I really supposed to not start dating again for a year or two? I cannot begin to express how much I long to be held, to make love. And yet this is just as basic a wish for pleasure as my friend's. How do I balance the conflict within me about this? Literally, how do I do it?

Yesterday, I needed to go to the pharmacy and when I stepped up to the counter, I could tell that the two beau gosses who run it were happy to see me. Their smiles showed in their eyes above their surgical masks. So yes, it felt good to be seen again. But after, as I made my way down the main street, I was so saddened and nervous about the throngs on the sidewalk all around me. The vast majority were not masked, nor social-distancing and I felt like a fool - albeit an intelligent one - as I dodged and weaved, waited and waived strangers past me in an ungainly dance.

It is exhausting, this permanent state of alert and I felt so relieved to come home. These four walls that have protected me and have been a haven. Despite all of my dreaming, it feels brighter on the inside. I know that I can't stay in here forever and I truly don't want the world to become my enemy. Our world I love so dearly. So, maybe tomorrow I will go to buy peonies like I have promised myself that I would. As part of the lucky ones still here, I have to continue to find my way as I go. With anxiety, with forgetting through laughter, with burnt flecks of hope or judgement despite my best intentions.

For now, I will take what I can. Please help me stay present and enjoy what I can.


I wrote this a few days ago and yet again, it already seems quite dated. Elements are colliding swiftly here, each person in their own corner, yet overlapping as we open up. Yesterday, I felt too penned in and so made the quick walk to the L'Ile de le Barthelasse which looks back upon the Pont d'Avignon and the Palais des Pâpes. From my isolated patch of fresh cut grass I watched from a distance the groups of students laughing, smoking weed, playing music. So many people. And yes, very, very few masks. We will see how it goes and what as individuals we are willing to risk. Each person will make their choice and I am really trying to shift away from judgement. It serves no one. I see that now. But the emotional terrain has been bumpy. It is deeply uncomfortable. Will the land that I so tentatively put my foot upon hold? These past few days have felt like breathing lightning as I wake up to change, without choice. I try to understand the well and the why of my decisions and dreams. In talking to my Mom last evening the phrase came burbling out, "It's been two months since I have been touched by someone."

It has been two months since I have had physical contact with another human being.

Is it worth it to take the risk? In the long run, it might be too risky for me not to try.

Thank you so much for all of your positive response for the audio recordings. So I will continue them for the moment when I can.

In English, you can listen to it: here.
J'ai fait une traduction à la pif pour un ami, on peut le écouter (malgré les fautes): ici.

I just read this article in The Atlantic on how "quarantine fatigue" is real and that pandemic shaming is pointless and found the perspective to be quite helpful.

Let's enjoy what we can.

Please stay safe, know that you are loved and hold on to the good things.

With bisous from Provence,


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Invisible indivisible

My Mom has long said that when I was very little, I was known to go up to everyone and anyone, to say hello. Being infectiously friendly is and apparently always has been, a key trait to this redhead. I remember being in the alley behind our house in Michigan after having recently arrived there, so that would be at about age 7 for me. I was picking blackberries, purple-stained hands. Suddenly, there was a group of girls my Sister's age walking down the way. I might have told this story before. I introduced myself and then marched them up to my Sister's room with a swift knock on her door. Susan, one of the ensemble, is to this day one of Robin's best friends.

That was the first time that we had made a major move and it would not be the last. Every four years or so, my parents would announce that we needed to "have a talk" and I always knew what that meant. Off we would go to another part of the country and slowly, I lost that will to befriend, tired of always being "the new kid" who had to prove herself all over again. Eventually, I went so far as to dress in what was considered "radical" fashion at that wave, punk, goth...just to confirm what seemed already evident, that I was "other," someone not meant to belong.

I tried to do so with pride. To be adolescent is to wear a mask lightly.

But that sense of separation created such loneliness. There is an inherent discord within not feeling being appreciated. As if it were bad to be uniquely myself, topped up with a heady longing to be loved. As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in the poem, "I am prayer again,":

"It’s here in all the pieces of my shame that I now find myself again.
How I yearn to belong to something, to be contained in an all-embracing mind that sees me as a single thing.
And I yearn to be held in the great hands of your heart.
Oh let them take me now.
Into your hands I place these fragments, my life, and you my God spend them however you want."

Why am I writing about this now? Beyond the beauty of Rilke's words (and please, feel free to exchange "God" for whatever suits you), I have been rolling in the shadows of this seeming distance as of late, during this time of isolation, this pandemic. It has been since March 14th that I have been alone, so for nearly two months. I thought that I would be fine as I am used to solitary living but I did not take into account all of the interactions during my workday that buoyed me. I miss them.

One evening at the hotel this winter, a couple that I had been chatting on and off with for days came to the reception desk. Somehow, they started to speak about their religious beliefs and forcefully. Quickly, I understood that they both were trying to convert me to Christianity. The wife was more insistent than her husband, himself a preacher, who said something important. "What if this job is exactly where you are supposed to be for now? You are very talented at it and the difference that you make in people's lives...Perhaps that is enough? That you are celebrating the gifts that were given to you by God? To make others happy. To connect."

I thought about that for a long time after. And it echos with me now, in my empty room. What if? What if he is right?

I share these thoughts with the ghosts of the past. The issues not healed, having been ignored. In these days and nights, I find myself incapable of hiding from them. Grief, fear, anger...they have all arrived one by one, and rarely politely. I breathe through them, I feel where they are lodged in my body, I try to handle myself tenderly, with grace. This moment is a definite opportunity, or a demand, to heal those wounds once and for all. Sometimes, when I cannot take it anymore, I walk. But even then, in the abandoned streets, I am too aware of the massive space all around me.

I want to be seen again, to be recognised for who I am. In this time, often, not always, I feel invisible, indivisible from the hidden as we hold on, each in our own home. The lockdown will start to ease up in a few days time in France but the issues that have arisen will not so quickly be forgotten.

All I can ask is that we be aware and share for each other. As we can. I am not sure if we will ever approach others as openly as we once did but we can hold space for that desire to connect and not separate. Because of course that separation is only illusion. Can we remember to belong? To once again belong to ourselves and to each other? It could, quite clearly, give us all the force to go forward, in so doing, through love.


Valèry, one of my recent French readers, has suggested that I do a simple audio recording for all of my posts, not only as for the recent collaboration that I did with Rémy Deck on "So far to go through". He said that it helped him to better piece together the meaning and that the sound of my voice added to his understanding. So here we go, as a little test. I would love to have feedback if this is of interest. You can find it here: Invisible indivisible recording.


I had a really amazing discussion with my friend Mayra a few days ago. We have followed each other on Instagram for years and have written each other quite a bit but I was especially delighted when she suggested that we have a video chat. It changes everything. In the course of over two hours, we both cried (actually, I flat out wept) and laughed and recognised each other as old friends, newly found. 

Something that we have both been concerned about recently is the emotional impact of this pandemic. On Instagram, Mayra has created @pauseandremember which invites us to take time each day at noon to mourn the lives that have been lost due to COVID 19 as well as to share the grief of their loved ones. 

For my part, given that this is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to help break the stigma of those who are suffering emotionally during this crisis. It is easy to put shame upon depression during this time, with thoughts such as "who am I to be down? I should be grateful to be alive. I am being ridiculous." While the truth is that all feelings are valid and are to be respected. As someone who has struggled off and on with depression my entire adult life, I fear that the repercussions of this crisis may be far-reaching indeed.

So, just in case anyone might need it: 
En France, SOS Dépression, 24 heures sur 24, 7 jours sur 7, appelle gratuit. 
In the States, IM Alive Crisis Prevention with trained responders available to chat at any time. 


So let's do our best to stay connected. Be well, be safe and be kind.
With great love and gratitude from Provence,


Friday, May 1, 2020

golden hour

I paused in the frame of my open front door to gaze up to the sky. Black clouds were dancing with white, having appeared out of nowhere. Instinctively, I reached up towards my head, pulled off the Hermes scarf wrapped around it, "just in case", and locked the door behind me.

Phone? Check. Signed Attestation form? Check. Mask and gloves, yes those too. But tonight I also carried an empty plastic sack and a pair of scissors in my pocket. I was going on a mission.

We all have our guideposts that are helping us through. Good habits or less so, to shape our days during the lockdown period of the pandemic. I turn towards others, frequently, when I become overwhelmed by the news of the world, the death rates or even the pounding of my own anxiety. Because there is help to be found everywhere, or nearly, if we look; for it is disguised in many forms.

My friend Jamie Beck (I call her my friend Jamie, although we have only met twice, for that is how I think of her in my head) is an internationally acclaimed photographer who has shot for such varied clients as Cartier, Disney and Google. She and her chronically handsome husband Kevin (who is equally brilliant), along with their "so lovely as to not actually seem human" fairy child Eloise are living in nearby Apt, after having an about face from a distinctly glamorous life in my former home of NYC.

Like me, they are in a town, and in an apartment. This, during lockdown, presents challenges.

However, Jamie did not back down, or cower, or binge-watch through the afternoon (of course that would have been perfectly acceptable if she had). On March 14th (three days before the official start of lockdown), she made an announcement: "I decided today to take the power back from losing work, losing freedom, losing support, and get into the studio to commit, to as long as this crisis has a hold on us, and create one original piece of photographic art each day."

And so she has. She has called the series "Isolation Creation" and has invited fellow artists around the world to join in with their own works. Her pieces are of breathtaking beauty and deeply imbued with poignance. With the materials that she has on hand, she creates, carefully constructing and then photographing dioramas of a complexity that would impress the Dutch Masters. And yet there is a lightness of spirit to them, for this is Provence after all.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and so she and Kevin will go out "foraging" in the one kilometre radius that we are allowed on our daily walks. Now...I originally was taken aback by this idea. Were they really snipping away on public land? Yes. So does that mean, perennial good girl that I am, that I could possibly do the same? Yes.

I admit that it took me a week to get up the courage. On my evening "stay sane" strolls, I would spy out wildflowers and weeds that were pleasing to my eye. Yesterday, I took the plunge.

When the first raindrops started to fall, I begrudgingly wondered if life was teasing me for "breaking the rules." But I crossed the massive, now empty municipal parking lot, heading towards my goal. With each step, the rain increased. I could see it in the puddles, that became pebbled with each beat, hitting faster and faster. "I should probably turn back. I can do this another time," I thought. But a quiet voice answered, "It is only rain, Heather. Go on."

At the first snip of the magenta hued buds hidden behind a fence, I knew that I was right to have continued. I carefully laid their lacy frames in the sack for fear of breaking them. They had been my primary objective but I stood to trace my steps backwards, slowly stopping to cut free a jangle of grass with drooping pods, thick ropes dotted violet, delicate butter yellow blooms and a sheaf of green wheat.

With each breath, the rain came harder, until I could hardly see. I was wandering through a downpour. And yet the sun was shining so brightly through it all. Somehow the moment was so...completely unusual that I felt ecstatic. The golden rain, the stolen flowers, my white linen shirt stuck to my skin. What could I do but lift my face up with ridiculous gratitude? I wanted to laugh, to skip, to run.

And suddenly, a memory, a very early one, came surging from my head right to my heart. It was of a little me dancing around in the rain on a summer afternoon, carefree, so long ago. There I was, on the patio of the same house that my Mom had grown up in, deep in the Ohio countryside. I had long since cherished that memory, held it dear as a "before" of pure innocence. And yet here I was, feeling exactly the same at 50, in the middle of a crippling and heart-breaking pandemic. Elated.

Light is possible. Beauty is possible too. This crisis does not negate the eternal.

I smiled at the others that I passed (at an appropriate social distance) on the way back to my apartment. We had all been caught out in it and nobody cared, on the contrary, it did us good. Once inside, I laid the flowers on the tile floor, poured myself a glass of wine and looked at their individual grace.

With a gentle thud, I plopped down on to the floor next to them, getting up only to fetch a vase and free some little strangers who had unwittingly come along for the ride. I positioned each stem with the idea that I had in my head, making adjustments until I was pleased. This is no ikebana but a rough and ramshackle arrangement. I thought it fitting to how I felt in that moment.

Imperfect. But alive. And free.


Each day on Instagram, Jamie features a "roundup" of the artworks that have been submitted for the series. So far, over 200,000 submissions have been received. How absolutely amazing to have moved so many people to create at one of the most frightening moments of our lifetime. In addition, she is giving a proceeds to her sales to support other artists through the Foundation for Contemporary Art's COVID-19 Emergency Grants Fund and has so far raised over $10,000. Honestly, when I read that (in this article which also includes an interview about her concept and process), I cried. It is just so beautiful. 

And obviously, please give yourself a wonderful treat by going to discover the Isolation Creation series that is for sale on the website that Kevin created practically overnight to make this happen:

I have already bought Day Seven (the print was only $50 and is of remarkable quality) and would definitely like to buy Day One to accompany it (that is, if I still have a job to go back to! Still no news on that one!). 

While I have attempted nearly every art form, I do not find my joy in the visual arts (beyond photography). However, the Isolation Creation series has inspired me to get back to writing again. And that, along with one unforgettable golden hour spent in the rain, has brought me no small amount of Joy. 


Stay strong and be safe. And as my friend Edgar reminds me, "Be kind."
With much Love and Gratitude from Provence,


PS. I am getting a lot of feedback that many of you are unable to leave comments. I made an adjustment to the settings and so hope that will help. Thank you for your lovely emails!