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Monday, June 27, 2005

play for me

I was lying down for the nth time today, nursing one of many consecutive headaches, when I heard a large knock on our thirteenth century door.

I peered my head out to see my beau, clad in a chef’s top and horrible white clogs he has to wear in the kitchen, a grin on his face and a toothpick in his mouth. “Come, come!” He waved me out, a smile playing on his lips.

I ran down the stairs and out the door, to find him standing there on the street with a guitar. All I could think was I don’t deserve this. It felt like I was watching a scene out the film of my life. I'm fairly unfamiliar with gestures of this sort, and it hit me hard. He told me he’d written me a song, and started to run his fingers along the body of the guitar and play for me. He sang English lyrics with a strong French accent, and beat his guitar with a passion. I sat myself on the cobble stone streets, trying to grasp what was taking place. Trying to grasp the size of his heart, the honesty of his words and the look in his eyes. Afterwards I made him sing in French, and his voice became even more lyrical, the words making sense even when I couldn’t understand them. I felt my eyes water, and knew there was nothing I could say to describe how I was feeling.

I’ve always said that the way to my heart is through singing with an acoustic guitar. Something about this music brings me to my knees. With the simplicity of a sole acoustic guitar, the lyrics are much more powerful, the singer’s voice another instrument. I’ve had plans to marry Ben Harper for years now due to his heart aching lyrics, beautiful singing voice and power over of the guitar. But he’s getting old, and this one will do.

In he past week I’ve kept on telling him he had to play for me. That I wanted to hear him sing. I told this to one guy I dated for months, and never heard the sound of his guitar or his voice. He never played for me. He never showed up on time. He never showed me what it felt like to feel loved so openly. We spoke the same language, but never completely understood each other. And here I am, sitting in this medieval village, stone houses lit by sunshine, and a tall dark handsome French man singing his heart out to me.

He is singing to me, even when I spent the night with my head out the window, sick from Gin and Absinthe-that deviled green fairy-and his hand on my back. I had tears rolling down my cheeks, my hair disheveled and my emotions a mess. I don’t throw up often, and find it a really draining, really emotional process. I feel as if I’m up against my body; that I’m mistreating it and abusing it. He was patient. In the morning I found out he had been sick as well. We made sarcastic jokes about how romantic to be sick together, and he left early for work with his head pounding.

He doesn’t deserve head games, and I’m making an effort not to play them. I’m used to only falling for those who treat me like I’m less than I am, that confuse me, and that always stay just out of my reach. I’m trying to change this, trying to feel with my heart rather than my head. I worry I can’t give him a portion of what he gives to me, that I can never feel as much for him as he deserves. But he’s singing to me. He may know how to work his way into my heart without the abuse. This is a song that I don’t want to end, not yet.

this village

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

check to see that i'm breathing

If I thought less I’d be much happier.

Sometimes I think I should just inject myself with painkillers, bash my head against a wall and dye my hair peroxide blonde. Like, what? No you shut up!

My whole life I’ve never been able to completely enjoy myself, or feel altogether good about anything. I’m always too busy weighing everything out, analyzing, and looking too closely.

When I was young we made a few trips to Mexico. Part of me was always ecstatic, thanking the sky for a vacation and the sun that seeped into my skin. And part of me wanted to hide my blonde hair, my pale skin, my name brand clothing and everything else that put me in the same boat as every other tourist. In the city streets, children under eight-years-old walked up to me and tried to sell me Chiclets. Half my memories of Mexico are of these dark young faces yelling “Chiclet! Chiclet!” You never wanted to say no to them, but there was a mystery of whos greedy hands clenched the money at the end of the night. Who are the puppeteers that put these kids out there to target tourists’ hearts? I remember passing the woman huddled on the ground with her head in her lap, her aged hands stretched out, while we were on our way to dinner…the guilt hit harder than a jalapeno pepper in the chest. This is normal to feel when visiting less privileged countries, but I couldn’t help but envy the absent minded tourists who drank their sunburned faces off and were happy turning a blind eye.

Even when I drink myself numb the thoughts continue to spin in my head. I worry about offending people, the damage I’m doing to my liver, and the fact that I’ve created a false mood for myself. I feel my surroundings become out of reach, out of my control, and the headache that will hit me in the morning. I’m caught somewhere between heaven and hell.

Relationships are especially hard for me. I always want more. I always want what feels out of reach, but when it’s mine I'm not satisfied. I look for faults. I find the conversations are never rich enough, the kisses are never sweet enough and my craving for solitude is always too strong. I’m given perfection and I rip it to shreds. I feel as if I’m living an illusion, trying to re-create an image. I become a concoction of passion and confusion, afraid of delusion. Afraid to see who's heart will break first.

Why can't I fall more easily? Why can't I be less aware of my body? Why can't I be less aware of the thoughts, the words, that play on fastforward in my head?

But I don't think being blind would help. The patient who's lost himself to drugs is no better off than the one who suffers but retains his personality.

I need to bleed to know there's blood running through my veins. I need to scream to know there’s air in my lungs. I need to cry in order to know that my heart is still there; still able to be wounded. And I need these thoughts that beat like a drum in my head in order to know that my head is still there at all.

I'm a functioning dysfunctional. And I guess I have nothing to complain about.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

c'est trop chaud, et t'est trop beau

They say it's going to be another hot summer.

The past week has been too good to me. The joy of summer is beating into me stronger than the Southern sun.

I don’t want to lose this feeling. I walk around with a stupid grin on my face, constantly staring up at the sky in awe. My stereo sings to me “I feel fine, and I feel good, I feel like I never should,” and I nod my head in agreement.

I’ve spent the last week with a dark haired French boy, our eyes caught in dazed stares, our bodies drawn together like magnets. I fell for him last summer, and although nothing came of it I made it my goal to make something happen this time around. I can hardly believe it worked. I’m not good with relationships and don’t fall easily, but I’m charmed as hell. I’m happy. He makes life seem so easy.

The other night I went into Toulouse with some friends for la Fete de la Musique, one of the France’s finest ideas for a festival yet, where all over the country musicians congregate on street corners and play their hearts out. From Paris to the small towns in our region, it’s a variety of free concerts, with something for everyone.

In Toulouse the central square was a huge stage with a DJ playing techno, and the streets were laced with everything from rap to grunge rock. Down by the canal we moved to reggae beats, and beat our way through crowds of hundreds.

The night was amazing, even though it involved me taking my drunk friend home early, having a young man ask me for a lighter then throw up on my foot, many dirty French men, me getting lost on my own in some sketchy neighborhood in Toulouse-I think I asked a prostitute for directions-for more than an hour, and only getting an hour or so of sleep.

Still, it was a great night, the city was alive and I felt that way as well. When we took the train home at seven in the morning I was still swaying my arms to the music in my head.

And when I headed down to the lake the next day, hungover as hell, and felt the sun sink into my skin, I knew it was summer. When the village kids forced me to attempt dives off the raft and take the slide with them, I knew it was summer. When I was sitting in my friends stuffy apartment in Toulouse, my jeans sticking to my thighs while smoke filled the air and reggae music beat off the walls, I knew it was definitely summer. There's no other reason for me to be smiling so much.

This is the one time of year where I’m not cold, where I feel free in my skin, and where I get to spend time in a country that makes my heart sing. C’est ma coeur qui chante, et j’ai envie de danser.

These are the days I know I've got to hold on to, so I can dance with the thought of them later.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

papa, je t'aime.

Dad, I send you postcards from paradise, and wish you could be here.

Soon the sunflowers will come out, and we won't have you to force us into the fields for pictures, usually the best photographs of the summer.

Soon I'll be making feasts for the writing workshop, and won't have you to confirm how good my cooking skills are. We both love food, cooking, and usually end up ordering the same thing when eating out. Our taste buds crave the same aggressive flavours, and every time a piece of Roquefort cheese melts in my mouth, I can't help but think of you.

I crave your presence, your sense of humour-which is as horrible as mine-and your curiosity towards life. You love this region, exploring the old streets, discovering new restaurants, visiting escargot farms and putting on a heavy American accent when speaking French. Merci buckets to you too.

While you work 15 hour days I know you dream of being here. I know that working in the movie industry is closer to slave labour than Hollywood glamour. I've always been impressed by your patience on the days I've spent with you on film sets, impressed by the number of people that come up to be and tell me about what a wonderful guy you are to work with. I remember one guy telling me "Me and your dad laugh so hard together. No one gets me laughing that much." I guess we're all pretty lucky to have you.

Throughout my life you haven't always been there in person. You work a lot, and I tend to leave the country a lot. But I have never felt the distance. When I was younger, and you would work all night, you would slip small gifts under my pillow. A pack of M&Ms was enough to know you'd been thinking of me. You are fully supportive of my dreams, my sudden urges to take off, and my writing. This is more than I could ever ask for. You make me proud of who I am, and are a warm thought when my world turns cold.

It's so hard to tell you how much I love you without turning into a Hallmark card: "Father, I am blessed to have your soul in my life." How do I say it so that it comes out as genuinely as I mean it? Dad. I love you. I love that your traits are sewn so strongly through me. I love knowing you're there for me, regardless of how many miles away you are. You're an amazing person and I'm proud to be your daughter. Happy Fathers Day.

father & daughter

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Friday, June 17, 2005

she couldn't help but smile

The sun is beating down on the village, the rolling hills are a postcard of tranquility and the birds are singing at high volume.

I’ve just come home from a rich picnic at an old chateau, where butterflies danced through the pathways, and pieces of prose and poetry were posted into the ground on small wooden sticks.

Today, I am happy. Today I am thinking about happiness.

I’ve been observing people. What keeps them happy? Why do some of the older people here have more vitality than I do?

I think it’s that they keep busy. They balance work and pleasure in the same way they balance their meals and their intake of wine. They follow old traditions; take long walks and even longer meals. They bring gifts to their neighbors. They work in their gardens. They give themselves purpose, and embrace life rather than criticize it with a fine microscope.

I have been doing odd jobs, cleaning houses, painting walls, and sweeping cobwebs out of an old barn. Along with this I’ve been making elaborate meals-for myself, my mother, and other friends-taking immense pleasure in the preparation, consumption, and cleaning up afterwards.

When my hands are kept busy the blood flows smoothly through my body. My mind is opened and inspired by every job I take on, and no matter how tedious it is, I try to do the best I can, even when my arms are too weak or my skills too limited. An old man I’ve been cleaning for speaks to me in a strong British accent, pauses after every word, and constantly apologizes for himself. One day he asked me if and why I liked cleaning. “I like to see things improve,” slipped out of my mouth. He nodded in approval.

Usually my main purpose in the summer is to get a tan-yes, I’m pretty sure I’ve confirmed I’m vain-but this summer I’d rather make a few Euros, and take the train back to Paris pale faced and proud.

Paris will be a whole new adventure, and I know that it’s necessary. In order to live happily I find that I’ve got to keep myself inspired. Otherwise I will be eaten by my own despair and feel my body grow numb.

I have this one life, and I can’t stop looking at it. It’s sitting patiently in the palm of my hands, waiting for me mold it. There will be times when it molds against my will, but it will be me who produces the finished sculpture.

I know that I want to grow younger over the years, not older. To let my skin crease with wrinkles, but let my mind and spirit grow stronger.

There are times I feel half dead, but as e.e cummings said, on his own most amazing day, ‘i who have died am alive again today’. I want to keep this feeling. If you can picture me in your mind's eye, see that I'm smiling.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

hard alcohol and a three course meal

The waiter is a friend of mine. He’s tall, dark, slim, unbearably French and dressed like a Parisian.

He flashes us a charming smile and leads us to a small table in the back corner of the room. The white stone walls of the restaurant are lit by the glow of candlelight, filled with the conversation of people leaning over their tables, whispering to each other in English or French. One woman with cropped black hair sits with what must be her son, or her partner in an illicit affair, a young man with a pierced ear and dark hair who somehow makes suspenders over a dress shirt look sexy.

It's Monday night and although outside the sky is grey and pouring, we’re inside, warm, delighted by the prospect of eating somewhere so elegant, and celebrating my parents 35th wedding anniversary. While my father works away on a film set somewhere in Vancouver, they send their love back and forth over the ocean, and we go out for dinner upon his request.

We toast to this, my mother with an inexpensive red wine, and me with a heavy gin and tonic.

I know that I should sit up straight, stop wearing my jeans so low, wear less eye make-up and drink wine rather than hard alcohol with my meal, but it’s just not my style.

There are several choices of three course meals on the menu; the most expensive is actually four courses. We settle for the cheapest, which is still gourmet, and more food than either of us can handle.

We order, and the strength of my drink on an empty stomach has me talking at high speed and finding my own laugh contagious.

When our first course arrives we are taken back by the size of the salads. “This is too big for a first course!” I tell the waiter, who smiles and replies “You don’t have to eat it all. Do what you can.” With his permission, we dig in gratefully and leaf half sitting on our plates. They are miniature works of art. My mother has the salade Roquefort, a lush and varied green salad topped with potent blue cheese and walnuts, surrounded artfully by radish, red pepper, apple slices and parsley. I have the salade vegetarienne, which is similar, although instead of cheese, walnuts and apples, I have rich marinated eggplant and red peppers, with grated carrot laced through the salad. The eggplant has soaked up the olive oil with a passion, and it melts into my mouth along with he red peppers, their flavors brought alive by the process of marination.

The second course is just as beautiful. Four separate tastes are presented separately on a large white square dish. On the corner closest to me is a large piece of fish, pan-fried with spices and breadcrumbs, giving the exterior a delicate crisp. They’ve somehow managed not to make it greasy at all, and the inside of the fish melts in my mouth like butter. The three remaining corners have been filled with a small sample of salad, mashed potatoes with parsley, and a baked zucchini ball stuffed with eggplant. I choose to leave my potatoes and salad, and give myself completely to the rest, as fish, zucchini and eggplant are some of my greatest lovers in the food world. I have never seen a zucchini ball until recently, and they are basically zucchini grown into a small round ball shape. For our meals they have cut the top off as if it were a miniature pumpkin, ready to be carved, and have replaced the insides with diced eggplant. The flavors work in harmony together, and the insides are rich and warm, a heavy taste of butter or olive oil filling the vegetables.

I feel as if I’ve caught onto a great secret. People think that they have to go to church every Sunday to go to heaven, but really it’s been hidden in French cuisine, and the second Bible is a cookbook filled with gourmet recipes.

By the end of the second course we could both easily go home, satisfied with our meal and full. But we are in France, and our menu includes a dessert, a sin to turn away.

My mother orders crème brulee a l’orange, while I go for one of my favorite desserts, fromage blanc au coulis de fruits. This is a thick white cheese that has been stirred into a yoghurt like substance, topped with a fruit sauce similar to raspberry jam, and served with sugar at your own disposal. The waiter tells me it is very strong and that it has come straight from the farm, making sure this is still what I want. I’m thrilled by the thought of a stronger fromage blanc than I’m used to, and even more so by the thought of some old man turning it with a big old wooden spoon at a local farm, so I nod my head with big eyes, “Oh oui!”

I’m not disappointed. It’s the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s practically like a strong goat cheese, with a much thicker substance than usual. The strength takes me aback but is perfectly suited to my taste buds. Our waiter tells me that this is how all the old people like it, because it reminds them of how it used to be made, the way they would enjoy it at their own farms. I make some dumb joke about being older than I look and thank him.

We pay the bill, our bellies full, and he tells us to have a beautiful night, blows us both kisses and gives us one last dashing smile.

Outside it is still drizzling, and we walk home arm in arm.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

when it fades to black

I have been reluctant to write, afraid of putting my darkness on display.

What I want to share is the fruit of the land, the butter on my bread, and the foreign tongues that yell back at me. But I can’t do this until I write out the darkness.

Over rolling hills, a seductive landscape and a golden sun, I paint my own clouds.

And I hate to be down. I hate myself for it. I feel I have no right to it. I hate to feel my body heavy, forcing itself out of bed, out of the comfortable numbness that sleep has to offer.

I hate to feel myself irritated by people I love. Angry at someone for approaching me, for speaking to me, while my thoughts spin like a whirlwind in my head.

These are more than bad moods that come and go. They are more than a stage of teenage angst. The moods are heavy. They are ugly. They take my mind to places I’d rather not go. Force me to scrutinize myself until I am brought to the ground, grovelling, searching for a crumb of confidence.

And just as quickly I am up again, my passions brought back to life. I am able to write, to socialize, to drink life liberally, and clink my glass with others in a toast to simply being.

There are medical names for this type of mood disorder, but I’m hesitant to label myself. Does it make a difference if I do? Still, I find comfort in the thought that I’m not alone, that I can blame the chemicals in my brain rather than myself.

Keeping the darkness inside of me only pushes me deeper, and I’m afraid it will all fade to black.

So I’m releasing it. I’m pulling the rusty key from my pocket, opening the cage and setting it free.

This is who I am. I am over emotional, up and down, hot and cold, beautiful and ugly. And in fighting the taboo of keeping it to myself, I'm one step closer to freedom.

In the end, this is what I crave.

I crave the sun, its heat pounding down on my body, the sound of my own laughter, a lighter step, an open mind and the confidence to take on anything.

Nothing's easy, but already I can see a cloud in the sky shifting.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

the blonde and her boys

For the past five days I've walked the streets of this small town with a young man on each side of me.

I joked to a man selling foie gras at the market that they were both my boyfriends, and when he laughed and said that I must be pregnant one of them responded: “Yeah, we really have no idea who the baby belongs to.”

The young men are actually just friends from my high school grad class, and although I’ve never been very close with either, I’ve always loved their easy-going attitude and sense of humor.

During their stay we danced early into the morning at a club out in the country, sat around the dining room table eating meals we all prepared, played cards and drank with a vengeance. We visited local wineries, nearby towns, and the giant grocery store with the yoghurt aisle so large it brings me to my knees. The yoghurt flavors are a rainbow of pleasure: fifty varieties of plain, vanilla, lemon, chocolate, prune, kiwi, caramel, coconut, and so much more.

We sat at the statue of the Virgin and admired the stars, walked down country roads and lay in a field of grass trying to soak up early summer sun.

Last night we walked down to a friend’s country home at midnight, the stars blazing down on us, the surrounding fields a blur, and the road a path of darkness. We walked quickly to avoid getting cold, our singing and laughter ringing through the surrounding crops.

They’re traveling around Europe for six months, and were glad to have a break from hostel beds and cheap fast food.

I enjoyed their company, and loved being the sole female in the group. I loved cooking our large hearty meals, drinking and listening to music, and trying out a variety of French cookies from the local grocery store.

Still, it was hard trying to please others during my every waking hour. The town doesn’t provide much entertainment, and I was afraid they would get bored, that their yawns would bounce off the surrounding shutters and down my sensitive eardrums.

I took no time to write, read, or hear myself think. I was directing my energy towards my visitors, and had little remaining for anything else.

We dropped them off at the train station this morning, and watched them climb on an old train headed for the city. I hope that they’ll remember our little piece of France.

And while they head to their next of many destinations, I’m trying to take from where I left off. To find my words on the page once more, my head planted solidly on my shoulders, and my love aimed towards my mother, since our time alone was cut short.

I’ve also taken on numerous small jobs cleaning and painting, and will be glad to feel myself hard at work. After a week of heavy drinking, I’ve a few sins to wash away.

me and the boys