May 20, 2010

J’habite Ici.

I am turning thirty on June 19th, 2010.
I have lived many lives. In fiction and in my dreams.
I am a Gemini.
I am a Welsh fairie with hair of fire.
I am Native American.
I am a runaway slave.
I am a Chinese immigrant.
I am a Woman Warrior.
I write the Word of God in the native tongue.
I walk through the mountains to protect the children.
I create peace.


In Paris, we visited Shakespeare and Co. in the Latin Quarter, near the awe-inspiring Notre Dame. This famous bookstore is known for its belief in unity and peace. Writers, famous and otherwise, throughout the last century have come to this bookstore. I walked in and fell head over heels in love. It is a quaint shop with hidden treasures in nooks and crannies. Wanderers can still lay their weary heads on small beds among the books in exchange for helping in the bookstore for a few hours.

I bought Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Fifth Book of Peace. I wanted to carry a good friend into the strange land with me. Reading her words, her talkstory, creates a home for me. I feel at home reading about her search for peace.

Kingston had a workshop for peace on June 19th, 1993: “Reflective Writing, Mindfulness, and the War: A Day for Veterans and Their Families.” She writes that June 19th is a “holiday for Chu Ping, whose name mean ‘peace.’ […] The dragon boats race to honor his martyrdom for peace.”

I was born on a Chinese holiday for peace.

* * *

Since arriving in Cogolin, France, we’ve been somewhat living in the 1930’s. We do have electricity (although it went out for a few hours the other morning and I panicked) and running water, we are shut off from most communication.

After being in an information overload for over six years, it has been both calming and frustrating to not be wired to the world. Our cell phone is mostly for local calls and emergencies because it’s so expensive to call abroad. We have a TV, but all of the channels are in French. We don’t have internet. The internet café down the street charges 5 Euros per hour. David and I were accustomed to being on the internet for six to eight hours most days. We read blogs and articles and news feeds. We were up to date. We knew what was going on.

Here, we don’t have NPR or the BBC to connect us with all that’s happening in the world. We don’t have an English speaking or expat community here like we did in Brussels.

It’s pretty quiet in this quaint town. After school, the teenagers ride around on their scooters. The church a block away is a simple medieval building. The town was built on hills and the view overlooking the town, only a steep hike up a few streets, is breathtaking. You can almost see the true blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

We walked the five or so kilometers (which we think is about three miles) to Port Cogolin. I was thrilled to see the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. We stood on the beach and watched storm clouds sweep towards St. Tropez (on the right). I saw a flash of lightning over the water. Then the wind became fierce and blasted sand into our eyes and teeth.

Ah, Nature.

Shut off from the busy, stressful world, we have had a lot of time for meditation and reflection.

We’ve been writing daily in our journals.

I have the presence of quiet in my mind. Fewer panic attacks. I’ve been able to see and think clearly. I’m aware of myself and my worldview. I’m not afraid. I feel confident and at peace.

“If only for once it were still
If the not quite right and the why this
could be muted, and the neighbor’s laughter,
and the static my senses make—
if all of it didn’t keep me from coming awake—

Then in one vast thousandfold thought
I could think you up to where thinking ends.

I could posses you,
even for the brevity of a smile,
to offer you
to all that lives,
in gladness.”

-Rainer Marie Rilke, The Book of Hours

* * *

I’ve finished over seventy good pages of my third novel. When I’m finished with this draft, I’ll go back to my second novel and do another revision.

But I’ve felt isolated. Lonely. I miss my family and my friends. I daydream about when we’ll go back to the States. I miss (yeah, I know…) my TV shows and watching movies. I miss being able to call anyone anytime I want to. I miss the internet…a lot.

The town shuts down on Sunday and most of Monday. Every day between 12:30 and 3pm, everything closes. Siesta time. It’s a beautiful concept. A leisurely lunch and cuddle time with your honey or a nap. How divine! I admire the European attitude toward daily life. Things are in perspective here.

It has taken us Americans awhile to get used to this serene lifestyle. We expect shops and places to be open when we want them to be open. We wonder: How does anyone make a living here?

In Port Cogolin, we stumbled upon a nonchalant art gallery. One of the artists, Valerie Hadida (a sculptor and painter), creates these lovely, slightly flawed, waif girls with masses of hair and delicate facial features. She’s captured the humanness and holiness of Girlhood.

I am a clay sculpture on the coast of the Mediterranean.

* * *

As an empathic writer, it is a healing process to be alone with my writing. I draw from my memories, experiences, and emotions to create a world, from whence there was none.

Sometimes I have difficulty separating how I feel from the people around me. I feel what they are feeling. I dream what they are dreaming. It is good for my writing. I am able to create layered characters.

But my soul needs silence. It craves release. It strives for balance.

I know what I want to do with my stories. I want to create a home for others. I want to offer a drink of water for the soul. A place to lay one’s head and rest. I want lovers, strangers, and castaways to read my stories and find a place to belong.

The words of Rilke, born in Prague, and Kingston, an American girl born of Chinese illegal immigrants, have been churning the water of my mind. Like the angel’s finger stirring the pool, they have given me the signs that I needed. I see the ripples and I’m ready to dive in.

2 comments:

Lizzie said...

The solitude has been good for you. This is beautiful, all of it. Write as much as you can. Your serenity is making your voice so clear.

guitarmutt said...

Hi Gwen, your writing here is beautiful. Embrace that serenity while you can. I would not be surprised if returning to the U.S. is actually a bit overwhelming. I find it overwhelming. We are so plugged in, but so disconnected in our own way. It sounds like you are reconnecting, in a way, with life, the planet, everything. I read, today, a blog about the difference between soccer and tennis by an American. It was illuminating. He said he needed something to be happening all the time. Some change in score seemed to be the be all and end all. It was disconcerting to him that the rest of the world, for the most part, can go crazy over a game that can actually end with no score at all 0-0. I think that says a lot about us that we are always looking for something, anything, anyway, anyhow rather than enjoying the process. The journey. As an author, you have to appreciate the journey. The solitude to create is amazing, but it can be paralyzing for someone who needs results now and now and . . . . . now.

Humans are weird. I am glad to see that you two are happy, and it is fun to think that you are working on two novels at once. I am working on two albums at once. Plus, ideas are coming for a third, and I am writing a story (with a couple of others in the wings).I can relate. Good luck.

Good grief this comment is long. =)