Monthly Archives: May 2012

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Hosting, nesting, posting, resting.

Category : Art , Daily Life

Today I’m hosting a playgroup. I love having people over and don’t tend to find it stressful – though if anyone is actually judging me on my housework I probably should be more worried. At the moment hosting is the best idea as it means I don’t have to go anywhere! I don’t have to walk, or catch trains or buses, hoisting my ginormous belly around the Ile de France, along with Louis and the pushchair…

I’m always assuring other hosts not to clean or tidy before we visit – we’re all in the same boat and know well enough that toddlers mean food and toys everywhere. But I did tidy up today. Louis’ high chair was disgusting. I hope no one looked at it closely, recently. I also washed the floors – and as we all tend to be on/near the floor at some point during a playgroup, attending babies and toddlers who are always close to the floor, I thought it was a good idea.

If cleanliness has anything to do with godliness I have problems. Well, not today, perhaps, but in general… there is no place in housework heaven for me. Sure, a part of me wants to scrub the house clean – or rather wants the house to be clean… perhaps without actually having to do it myself. Nesting instinct? Perhaps. But it’s not a strong impulse. Not strong enough.

I am tempted to spend the next twenty minutes messing around with the book covers I’m designing (not because I’m publishing any of my books, but because I want to put something visual alongside the synopses on my ‘novels’ page), but I think I’ll resist. If I crash this afternoon, after my visitors leave, and want a rest, then novel-writing will be the first thing to go. Better do some now instead. If I get some done this afternoon as well, so much the better.

My guests have left. We had a lovely lunch and then found the brownies… after the person who brought the brownies had already gone home! Delicious, though. There are toys everywhere and crumbs all over the floor (though the worst was definitely Louis smooshing some soggy bread into the floor just at the end) – but it was a fun time and totally worth the mess. One of the other kids is very close to Louis in age and they were chatting away in baby-speak, laughing at eachother, blowing raspberries and generally having a blast. It’s rare for Louis to interact so much with another child his age, but really precious.

Think I’ll go take a nap and deal to the mess later.

So wise.


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Imitation and Art

I am reminded daily that Louis learns by mimicking us. Terrifying thought, naturally.

Who did he pick this one up from?

Sometimes we encourage his imitation. We prompt him to pick up toys, or eat food, or say words, by doing these things in front of him and then giving him opportunities to do the same.

(Right now he is waiting on the couch, a book in hand, ready for me to read a story… be right back.)

Four books later… I don’t turn the pages much anymore – another thing he’s learned by imitation, I suppose. And perhaps the love of books as well.

I’m yet to master getting videos that aren’t on youtube to show up on my blog, but here’s one you can download: Louis having his afternoon tea today, and my attempts to teach him some good (French) manners…

Bonjour?

If mimicking us wasn’t enough, he’s quite happy to converse, generous gesticulation included, with the baby in the window…

The baby in the window

What does all this stuff about imitation have to do with art? Well, artists imitate. It’s part of the process, and it’s a stage. If I read a book or watch a movie with a unique, strong style, especially if it’s one I love, then I often find myself mimicking that style/voice in my writing.

Stephen King talks about this in ‘On Writing’ and assures me it’s a stage and that the more I write and read, the more I will learn about style without just becoming a mimick. This is reassuring.

I follow Joanne Harris on Twitter and she mentioned watching some of my favourite movies recently. I replied and asked her if she ever found herself echoing those great voices in her writing. She replied, “Not my writing, but I pick up vocal mannerisms very easily.” (That’s right, direct quote from the lady herself. Get it here, hot off twitter feed.)

So we begin by imitating, whether we mean to or not, and perhaps it’s good to do so on purpose sometimes, because then we use stylistic elements intentionally, explicitly. An artist’s apprentice used to have the job of filling in the gaps, painting by numbers almost. They would follow the artists instruction, mimic their style, and paint the easier parts of their works.

As an artist matures they become more independent, more creative, more daring. They learn skills – some explicitly, many implicitly (without intentionally seeking the knowledge/ability or even being aware of it it many cases).

I am finding my style more resilient these days. I’m reading several books with strong stylistic flavours and yet my own writing isn’t taking on any of the obvious traits of these works. A sign of progress, I hope!

In a more conscious way I’m also learning French by imitation. Had another conversation with the friendly lady at the playground. Being pregnant and having a wobbly toddler are great ice-breakers. We mostly speak in French and it’s so encouraging to be understood! And to understand! It’s been four months since we arrived – four months tomorrow. I still had to use google translate to figure out the application for for our CAF number (today’s fun bureaucratic challenge), but I managed most of it without. Hopefully, when Luuk looks over it he doesn’t find a whole lot of errors! He is the better reader, I suspect. Definitely stronger as a listener. I am the stronger speaker… not so different from English in this regard.


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Limbo land

I’m in this in-between place. It’s kind of peaceful, with elements of crazy. I have impending crazy, which lends a little of the crazy to the current, more-peaceful moment. How is life peaceful at the moment? I have lowered my expectations and cross things off the to-do list, most days, because they’re unnecessary rather than because I’ve done them.

But the coming crazy, that’s less of a mystery. I stumbled across a few things (thanks to Pinterest…) that reminded me what the first few weeks with a new baby are like.

Pregnant Chicken’s ‘10 things they don’t tell you‘ is a funny and frank list of things to expect after giving birth. If you’re an easy-queasy, don’t click that link.

And this list advises post-partum visitors about how to be more/less helpful when visiting new mums/babies.

Excellent advice. Though I’m not so worried about the hand-washing thing. Let’s not set ourselves up with an unmaintainable standard of cleanliness.

I am glad to have done this whole shebang before, in a more familiar environment. In most instances I’m feeling pretty relaxed and confident. I’m not, however, looking forward to explaining embarrassing issues to a pharmacist, in French, while sleep deprived and suffering from all the other joys described in ’10 things they don’t tell you’.

I am wondering how Louis is going to react to all this. My placid wee lad is showing his stubborn streak at the moment and I have no expectation that this is a phase he’ll grow out of. Considering his parentage… nope, the stubborn is probably here to stay. Stubbornness, or its rosy-complexioned buddy, determination is one of those (many) traits that make toddler-hood hard on everyone involved but are actually pretty handy in adult life.

He might be determined, but he still needs his two naps a day and bids me a cheery ‘Bye bye’ after I tuck him in. Often wakes up an hour later and chats, sometimes cries. In the afternoon I’m usually just about to start getting some writing done for the day, so I wait it out and see if he’ll doze off again. Most of the time he does.

I have a couple of hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon while he sleeps. The trick is going to be getting the new baby to nap during Louis’ nap time, but at least there’s a pretty good chance of that at first, when the newbie is lethargic all the time.

I’m reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ (fantastic, by the way) and he’s kicking me in the pants re: work ethic. I’m not bad, I mean I write most days. But I still watch TV. I still waste loads of time. I don’t read 70+ books a year. ‘On Writing’ is full of good practical advice but one theme that he keeps circling back to is that if you want to be a good writer you’d better be willing to work hard, to make sacrifices.

I suppose there’s a wider lesson here – if you are serious about achieving ANYTHING challenging then you’ll have to work hard and make sacrifices.

Everyone is always telling new and soon-to-be Mums to lower their expectations of themselves, to just relax and accept:

– you will wear only pjs, at the most, for a couple of months

– you will not leave the house

– you will not achieve anything beyond keeping that baby alive and nourished and loved – and that’s a great achievement

 

The advice givers, their intentions are good. I get it, I do. And for many new mums this list is very close to true. It might even be helpful. But I didn’t have it so hard the first time around and this time I don’t want to plan on that depressing existence. Why not?

– I felt a million times better when I’d had a shower and put on something that made me look a little less pregnant.

– I felt a million times better when I left the house. And I liked the house a lot better after a few hours apart.

– I felt a million times better when I did achieve something other than keeping Louis alive.

So, for me, I’m raising the bar. I’m going to be my usual naively positive self on this one and plan to bounce back from the low that is labour (lets just be honest and call it a miserable few hours, followed by a rough few days, at the very least).

How am I going to bounce? Well, I plan on keeping writing, for starters. Even if I only get a few words on the page. If I do some I’ll still be making progress, no matter how slow. And I want to keep blogging, but I suspect that’ll be easier than novel-writing anyway.

I also plan on getting out of the house. I live in France, so that means I’ll have to get out of my PJs too. Thank God.

Also, thank God, i live in Antony, not Paris. There are a lot more normal-looking people around, and a lot fewer models. Everytime we go into Paris (and we’re only half an hour away, so it’s not so very rare) I am lumbering up some horrible stairway deep in the bowels of some metro rail station, when I’m passed by these incredible perfume-ad girls in stilettos that might as well use knitting needles for heels. Surely they’re in as much discomfort as I am!

Anyway, I’ll be glad to not see them when I have a newborn strapped to my leaky chest, and my would-rather-go-to-the-sandpit toddler in the pushchair, on my way to the bakery for ‘deux baguette’ (so that I have enough to snack all night if necessary).

In other news, it’s only a week tomorrow till Mum and Dad arrive! They’re off on their O.E., coming to visit me. That rhymes nicely but isn’t the entire truth. There’s nearly two grandchildren which make for pretty good impetus. I am looking forward to showing them our new town, introducing them to certain culinary delights, and taking advantage of their babysitting services so that I can see a movie and have a really long, leisurely dinner date just one more time before the baby arrives. So, we’re assuming she’s not coming for another two weeks or so.

I could skip the movie and leisurely dinner actually. I’m over being pregnant. My hips ache, deep in the bones, and my clothes don’t sit right, so they irritate my skin, which is already a mess.

The baby is welcome to come really any time now. After ten o’clock tonight when Luuk gets back from the Netherlands.


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5 Things I learned from The West Wing

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Category : Uncategorized

The West Wing is one of my absolute favourite TV programs, one I will undoubtedly re-watch too many times. But if you’re going to spend that many hours of your life on the couch, at least with this particular TV show you’ll probably learn some important lessons (not to mention a whole lot about politics, religion and economics – I don’t mean to make it sound boring).

In the interest of saving time (there are 156 episodes) here are a few things I learned:

1. Things are not what they seem, ie. some of my assumptions and beliefs, no matter how well researched and founded, are probably incorrect, at some level.

 

2. Pick your battles. Some things just aren’t worth fighting about. Some things are. Don’t offend people without good reason. Even if those people are being ridiculous.

(Sorry, you’ll probably have to watch this one on YouTube.)

 

3. Ignore the vast majority of the stupid things people say on the internet. Don’t respond. It just encourages them to be more vocal. And you will probably increase their audience exponentially.

 

4. If the world’s problems had simple solutions someone would have fixed them by now. That being said, we should still try to make the world a better place. But I can’t assume that everyone else is a total moron for not doing it my way. Be wary of sentences that begin with “Why don’t they just…?”

(CJ is the press secretary. She is speaking with the National Security Advisor about an arms deal with a nation who systematically breaches the basic human rights of women.)

 

5. If you need to yell at God, do so. A God worthy of the capital letter can handle it, and would probably rather you were speaking to him than not.

(a little context: His secretary was just killed in a car accident. Josh Lyman was shot, as was the President, in an attempt to kill Charlie – the President’s personal aide, who is black. Meanwhile, the President is trying to decide if he’ll run for a second term in office, though he promised his wife he wouldn’t – because he has a serious illness… which the media just found out about. Hoynes is the Vice President.)

 


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A-tumbling down

I was woken this morning by the sound of breaking breakfast bowl, shortly followed by “No! We don’t throw!”

We brought four of these funky blue and white rice bowls over from NZ. One got cracked a month or two ago and now it holds Louis’ crayons. After this morning, we just have two left. I’m just glad Louis’ breakfast was dry cheerios. Luuk tells me Louis was putting a cheerio on top of each spoonful of yoghurt. Cute. Shame about the casualty.

Despite the dramatic beginning we’ve had a lovely, leisurely day. Luuk and I spent much of it reading, sitting out on the deck, feet up… And that’s where the second crash of the day occurred. Luuk had his favourite coffee cup balanced perfectly on the wall edging the deck. I put my glass up on the wall beside me, balanced it, relaxed: a very convenient sideboard. The weather has been hot, so I was thirsty. I drank my water. I returned my glass to its place.

It slipped; hit the deck. Shattered.

Almost dropped several other things in the course of the day. Managed not to, somehow. But crockery isn’t the only thing tumbling around here.

We took a picnic lunch to Parc Heller today. It was perfect. We ate our lunch by the lake, then Louis and Luuk fed the leftovers to the ducks.

Louis spent most of the rest of the time chasing his ball around the gravelly vicinity of the playground.

He was the third thing to tumble today. Gave himself a nasty shock, and put a red graze-patch on his cheek – the same cheek he landed on when he body-rolled at the playground earlier in the week. Luuk checked him over and cleared all other blemishes – jam left over from lunch rather than bloody cuts. So he’s fine. Was back to exploring the gravel and chasing his ball within a few minutes.

Also had a glorious time on the swings.

But then some other kids came nearby with their ball and Louis got distracted. A ball trumps everything.

Luuk and Louis had biked to the park – I met them there with the picnic. But I wanted to try out the bike with Louis’ seat on the front… no pictures of this feat, unfortunately, but I did squeeze on, my belly up against the back of Louis’ seat. Biked to the edge of the Parc then handed over the reigns and walked the rest of the way. Managed to beat the boys home (I’d boast of a great sense of direction, except that I mistakenly took a circuitous route on my way to the park…)

Louis napped away the remainder of the afternoon. Luuk finished his book and then did the same – noteworthy, as Luuk rarely naps. I was the only one not napping today. Got dinner organised before we went to church – a real treat to come home and have only a couple of last things to do before serving up a fresh, healthy, flavourful meal.

So, it’s Sunday evening and we’re determined to have an early night – always a challenge when we don’t get home from church till after 7.30pm. Sunday evening can be poisoned by Monday’s imminent arrival sometimes, but not in May, not in France. Tomorrow is another holiday! Luuk is off to the Netherlands in the late afternoon – has a client to see on Tuesday. It’s his last trip before the baby comes… so long as the baby doesn’t come between now and then. I’ve been aching in all the places that contractions ache: lower back, lower abdomen, etc. Walking to the park today was one long (500 metre) mission – these hips don’t lie: I’m at capacity. Can’t be long now. But it’d be good if it weren’t till Wednesday, at least.

Loving the summer weather, except for when I’m too hot to sleep. During the sermon this evening – on pentecost Sunday nonetheless – there were numerous peals of thunder. Very cool. A few spits of rain, but all dried up before we came out of church. Crazy weather.

I realised as we got in the car: not once, though the thunder rumbles deep and low in just the right way, not once did I think there might be an earthquake. Not even for a fraction of a second. Four months since we left Christchurch and I might finally be losing the neuroses. Meanwhile, Christchurch is rattling and rolling still – though my parents assure me that the quakes of the past week or two haven’t been that bad – I’ve had numerous geonet tweets reminding me that for some the neuroses are alive, and well, and well-justified.


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Chilling Out

Category : Daily Life

We’re enjoying a slice of summer at the moment. The deck is now a part of our living room. Louis and I both got new sandals today – he’ll finally be able to leave the house without socks. Freedom! He’s a kiwi kid, sure, but walking around barefoot in a society where no one does (and there’s very little grass to do it on) seems crazy. Even at the sandpit, all the kids have their shoes on. I wonder if that’ll change as we move into summer proper.

We did a practice run to the hospital this morning – ie. I showed Luuk where it was, and where the maternity ward is. We neither ran, nor practiced anything. In fact we stopped for brunch on the way.

This was just the first course. Once we’d put paid to our crepes, fromage blanc (avec miel or myrtle – honey or black currants), and croissant, the waitress brought out our second course: ham and eggs. I had ordered the fancier meal option and so my eggs were an omelette, and I also got a sausage and some little green pikelets, which tasted a bit like parsley.

Fantastic. Cafe de la Gare, Antony, you have my loyalty. Never have I been disappointed by anything you served up, except the company of smokers… but I’m in France and shall adjust my expectations.

Louis was pretty ready for his morning nap, but nibbled on croissant happily, and when that ran out he played with a Thomas the Tank Engine I found hiding in my bag. Later he took a piece of baguette from our basket (every meal, in France, I tell you!) and nibbled on that till we paid our bill. He’s learning to wait. And walk. Managed most of the way, and was carried mostly because his parents are impatient.

I had to get a blood test – another one! – but that should be the last for my pregnancy. Learned something this week (surprised I didn’t learn it sooner) – the word for ‘pregnancy’ in french is ‘grossesse’. I can’t decide if that sounds horrible, or just plain apt. Most days I feel pretty grossesse. I’m leaning toward apt.

Not sure why exactly, but I crashed hard when I got home. Had to nap. Strange, because I had a good sleep last night. Perhaps it was the big breakfast – we’re out of the habit… assimilating, methinks – all the blood rushed to my stomach, leaving my head sleepy. Perhaps it was having blood taken – though surely two or three vials wouldn’t make me weary. Not sure how many were taken. I don’t like to watch.

Was really lethargic for most of the afternoon. Luuk decided today was the day to reinstall everything on the computer… so I read V for Vendetta and wrote in my journal, watched some TV, and had a little bit of a tidy-up. Sat on the deck with my feet up until I got too warm, then moved inside. An idyllic lazy saturday really. Louis had a long sleep and when he woke we decided to dash to the shops and stock up on a few things – they shut on Sunday. Ended up having pizza, out, for dinner, but bought our dessert home:

We didn’t know what they were when they went in the trolley – couldn’t see in the box – but curiosity won out. Lemons, real ones, full of lemon sorbet! Brilliant. Doesn’t get much more summery than this.

In other news, we now have enough pillows for our guests to use normal (normal in NZ – 45×70) pillows. I’ve lost track of how many people have asked us about visiting. A small handful have actually given us dates and are now marked on our calendar. Please get in touch if you’ll be in Paris in the next three months – we’d love to see you! We may even be able to put you up. Maybe, but not without advance planning. If nothing else, a meal or a day to catch up is always feasible, even if we have a wrinkled new infant very near at hand the entire time.

Now, I’m off to put my feet up and ride out the last of a lovely lazy Saturday … which will hopefully be capped off with a good nights sleep and then a leisurely Sunday.


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The Art of Rest

This is not something that comes easy to me, but some days resting needs to be a high priority. Today I’ve had swollen feet and ankles, and been tired from a couple of bad nights’ sleep. I had a little list of things to do (get a CAF number so that I can enroll Louis in childcare) and buy (sandals, a summer-weight sleep sack, muesli and bread) but decided to can the list when I realised that nothing on my list couldn’t wait till tomorrow, or Monday.

Louis and I ventured beyond our apartment briefly, to the park for an hour or so after lunch. I wrote in my journal and then read a little, between short bursts of playing with Louis. It was idyllic, sitting there in the shifting shade, the breeze keeping the heat off.

Louis was very happy, though the whole walking/running thing does mean a few rough moments are inevitable. At one point he actually flipped all the way over. He was running after the ball and went down – not at all unusual – except this time it was in such a way that his face went to the ground and his feet kept going right over his head. He has one red cheek still, but I think at the time he was mostly shocked rather than in actual pain. Calmed down within a minute and was off after the ball again.

Balls are the thing. He is, this very moment, playing with three of them, chasing them around the lounge in his wobbly toddly way. He spots every ball on every page of every children’s book we read. Anything spherical will elicit a cry of ‘baw!’ and a pudgy little pointing finger, usually pulled fresh from his mouth and therefore leaving a wet splodge on the page.

But wait on, I was saying about how I find resting difficult. That doesn’t sound right does it? Rest, surely, should be easy. That’s the thing where you do very little, you put your feet up and relax. Resting is as easy as it gets.

You’d think, right? But no, there’s always something to do. Perhaps if I cleaned and tidied the entire house, and did some writing, and organised something for dinner… all of this during Louis’ morning nap, then when he had his afternoon nap I’d be able to really rest, without anything hanging over my head, whispering ‘to-do, to-do…’

The Art of Rest is the resting you do when the to-do list is not done. You’re really an Artist of Rest when you can do this without feeling guilty, but even the Artists of Rest probably need a pen and paper hand, so that they can jot down all those little things they think of doing. At one time I used a great time management tool and scheduled in my rest-time. This was the only way I felt free to rest, un-haunted by guilt. In fact, I’d highly recommend this tool if you struggle with doing nothing. Have a look at my ‘Resources‘ page. Under the heading, ‘On Getting Stuff Done’, I’ve outlined this great tool, and yes, I’m aware of the irony of using the same tool for ‘getting stuff done’ and in order to aid rest – by definition, not getting anything done.

I find rest easier now than I used to. Perhaps because I feel I have a good excuse – poor sleep habits, pregnancy, an energetic toddler… But everyone needs rest. Everyone needs downtime, alone, doing nothing. Few people, perhaps, get rest. Busyness is bandied about as a virtue and we tend to use the technology that makes life more efficient, not to make more time for rest, but to make the most of our time and to DO MORE. We tend to be proud of our busyness, as if being busy proves we are important, valuable members of society. We tend to be martyrs for busyness, complaining about it oh-so-graciously, as if we have no say in the matter.

There are people who have to work multiple jobs and ridiculous hours just to keep themselves and their families from starvation, but I am not one of them. I doubt anyone who reads this blog is. We all make choices and, consciously or not, we tend to choose busyness.

One of my aspirations is to be a restful person; to choose rest. That’s not to say I choose laziness or that I don’t also aspire to work hard, to be productive and to grow and progress… But I also choose to rest.

Practicing the Art of Rest


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Instead of writing…

Category : Art , Daily Life

Read a very interesting article today about the distinction between, and perceived hierarchy of, literary fiction and genre fiction. I wasn’t too sure about this myself. ‘Literary fiction’ seems like a label you should never give your own writing (seems a bit conceited). It’s the kind of thing you say about novels that you think are superior to what your siblings/spouse are reading. Genre fiction can be used as a bit of an insult, a way of distinguishing entertainment from high art.

I don’t know which of these two ball parks I was aiming for with my first novel – a modernised version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. My second novel was carefully constructed within the conventions of the Romance genre. This third one is definitely an attempt at something like literary fiction… though I’m relieved to find out there’s a big fuzzy grey space between and I’m allowed to fit in it.

Genre fiction, also known as Popular Fiction, gets a bad rap. One of the reasons is that it follows certain, successful conventions, especially around plot. The genre novel has a certain predictability, I guess, if you stand back far enough. The detective’s first suspicions about who-dunnit will not be correct. The man the girl hates at the start will be her significant other at the end. The problems presented in first couple of chapters will be solved by the time you finish the book. These books are often very satisfying. Readers enjoy resolution, especially if, just pages earlier, they thought it might be impossible. But critics are often harsh on genre novels just because they follow these conventions.

The article I just read answered this beautifully:

… conventions aren’t the iron cage they’re made out to be. Sonnets are bound by conventions too, but that doesn’t stop them from being great, and infinitely various. Conventions are more like the rules of chess: a small set of constraints that produces near-infinite complexity. They’re not restrictive, they’re generative.”

This was certainly my experience in writing a genre novel. Going in, I shamelessly followed the formula for romance. I plotted the whole thing out so as to match the rhythms of the vast majority of romance novels on the market. But once I started writing I soon found it hard to stick with the other conventions. The plot, I persisted with, but the genre’s most typical (and perhaps commercially successful) writing style, ie. the use of certain types of language, was just not my style. Meanwhile, within the confines of most of the conventions I found myself both liberated and empowered. I felt free to be creative and I suspect the finished product is actually a much better book than my first. It is certainly more cohesive. And even with all those lingering looks and brush-of-his-hand… I suspect the writing is better. Who’d have thought?

The thing is, Popular Fiction is popular for a reason. Readers aren’t all idiots. Some fiction is bad, sure, but some Literary Fiction is bad too. Where lieth the boundary between good and bad fiction? Well that’s a whole other question. I suspect, like the literary/genre line in the sand, it’s a bit blurry. The surfers keep dragging their boards through it.

Another great bit from the article (which is really quite long – I warned you):

Somewhere in its history, reading novels has gotten all tangled up with questions of social status, and accepting the kinds of pleasure that genre novels offer us has become — how perverse are we? — a source of shame. What is it, exactly, that those pleasures are guilty of? Novels aren’t status symbols, or they shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s the last vestiges of our Puritan heritage: if it’s not hard work, it’s sinful. Maybe it’s just that we’re self-loathing capitalists, and anything associated with commerce, as genre fiction is, is automatically tainted and disqualified from having any aesthetic value. Either way our attitude toward genre fiction smacks of mass cultural neurosis.”

So I think I need to get over it, along with everybody else. I will march on and not worry about whether or not my novel is too ‘genre’ or too ‘literary’. And i’ll try to save worrying about whether or not it’s any good till the editing phase.

If I’m going to get the first draft done before this baby comes I don’t have time to worry. Or read full length articles about genre.

It’s a lovely hot spring day here in Paris. I had low expectations – due to having very little sleep last night and a grumpy baby to deal with first thing in the morning – but the day has picked up. I did get a nap this morning, and then ticked a few more things off the to-do list – which always makes me happy.

It helps that that baby went to sleep this afternoon – finally – and I didn’t get torn away from writing before I was ready. I celebrated with one of my favourite hot-day treats…

The iced-mochaccino float.

Ingredients:

  • cold, leftover coffee from breakfast
  • hot chocolate powder
  • cold milk
  • ice cream

Further instruction is probably unnecessary, but here you go: 

Mix the first three in proportions you prefer. If the hot chocolate powder won’t dissolve in cold liquid then heat a small amount of milk in the microwave and dissolve the powder in that. Add this small warm portion to all the other cold ingredients and you should still have a cold drink. Ice cream goes in last – a big scoop of sweet deliciousness which hopefully doesn’t overflow your glass. Leave the spoon in there so that you can eat the ice cream before it melts. 

Yum.

Tonight I’m going out. That’s right: very rare occasion. Even rarer, I’m going by myself! It’s a girls night book swap. Unfortunately I have no books to swap, but I’ve been assured there will be plenty and I will just have to come up with another way to pitch in.

Also have a doctor’s appointment this evening – just routine stuff, but there’s always the hope that some bright ideas re: skin and sleep might come out of it. Better get on and make dinner or I’ll be in a mad rush later.



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Ticking things off

If I were in NZ right now, about to give birth for the second time in the same country, things would be so very sweet. Most of the challenges I’m facing here are language based. I speak ‘un peu le Francais’, which is a step up from ‘un petit peu le Francais’… Sometimes now I even say, “Je ne parle pas beaucoup de Francais,” (I don’t speak a lot of French) by way of apology when I stutter and pause my way through conversations.

Today I had a whole lot of little things to do, things I put off mainly because of my limited French…

– making an appointment with the doctor, to stock up on my usual prescriptions, so that I don’t have to do it for a while (ie. while breastfeeding all the time)

– making an appointment to meet with the hospital midwives. Went totally blank on how to say ‘fifty-seven’ (cinquant sept) while half way through giving her my phone number.

– reading through and completing the paperwork for the hospital – this took insanely long, partly because there’s so much of it, and partly because I typed most of it into google translate, even if I didn’t really need to. I just wanted to be sure I got it right.

– started packing for the hospital. I keep putting this off because I’m using/wearing a lot of the stuff I’ll want to put in. I will probably stay in hospital for four nights after the birth, assuming nothing goes awry. Also assuming I don’t absolutely hate being there and escape as soon as they let me… How is packing for the hospital made more difficult by the language barrier? Well the list of what to bring is in French. How different can it be from NZ? The hospital doesn’t provide towels, for starters, or baby clothes, nappies, etc. Had some fun trying to decipher the french phrase that means disposable knickers. Also got stuck on “brumisateur” which google translate tells me means “atomizer”. What do I want a spray bottle or steam-thingy for while I’m in labour?

The French health system is famously good but it is different to NZ with regards childbirth. I don’t see a midwife throughout pregnancy, more and more often toward the end, and then for six weeks afterward. Instead, I see an obstetrician once a month, and have a lot more blood tests and ultrasounds. The expectation is that I will have an epidural. I don’t have to, but it’s the go-to answer to labour pain here, and the more I am exposed to this way of thinking, the more I agree – why suffer unnecessarily? They have this ‘walking epidural’ option – a lighter dose, basically. I can control the dosage and while I have less pain relief I can walk around (which helps labour progress). If the pain gets too much I can up the dose and lie down. Seems so in-control and civilized. My memories of Louis’ birth a still pretty fresh (too fresh for me to go into this one with even a shred of whimsy) and while everything went very well – not too long, and without medical intervention except for laughing gas (which doesn’t count) – I am dreading the pain and exhaustion.

Just after Louis was born. Exhausted. Even smiling was beyond me.

Enough about birth. The other things I ticked off my list today were:

– fixed up the children’s books that Louis has ripped. He doesn’t do this often, fortunately. I lost the cellotape, though, and so I’d made a little to-fix pile. Found the tape in the bottom of the toy box yesterday.

– sent a few emails

– dried the dishes

– took Louis to the playground. It was the first day in a while with good weather – so good in fact that we’ll eat dinner on the porch tonight. There is one friendly mum who frequents our playground and she was there with her two daughters and one extra little girl, whom she babysits. Going to the playground doesn’t make it onto the language-barrier to-do list, but today I definitely flexed my French. We had a whole, for-real conversation! Me and a french person – who I wasn’t buying food from! Amazing.

I was warned not to expect quick or easy friendships with the French, but I figured my usual gumption (shameless chattiness and bold smile) would cut right through any chilliness. I was wrong. Antony isn’t Paris, where I’m sure no one would even exchange formalities, but it’s not “me too” country either. Bonding is tres difficile. My friends are all expats or at least have an expat parent. But maybe that will soon change.


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joy

Finding Joy

Category : Daily Life , Positivity

I’m sure I’m irritating as hell to the realists and wet blankets of the world. I do tend to be little-miss-positivity. Sure, it’s a strength, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

(So, I’m sorry if I bug you but, frankly, you’re easy to bug.)

The quest for happiness sells a lot of books and people spend time and money and every other resource they have in search of it. But joy doesn’t have to be such hard work, I don’t think.

Perhaps it’s uncool to be easily impressed, easily pleased. You can’t have very high standards if you’re so easily won over.

Okay, that might be true, but neither does this guy…

And he’s having a particularly grizzly time at the moment. Teeth are making their cruel imprints on his gums. His parents are making the boundaries known with nasty consequences, like time-outs in the hallway and no-chocolate-if-you-throw-food. Ouch.

But it’s okay because in the desk drawer there lives a bag of balloons and Mum can blow up a new one when this one pops.

As an adult, jaded and whatnot, it’s harder to find joy. It takes more of a conscious effort, a dedicated attitude of mind. One of the easy simple pleasures is food. I have to buy the ingredients, come up with an idea of what to make, even research a recipe or two, and then do all the hard work of actually cooking… and then later on do the dishes. I might even feel guilty for all the extra calories that come from cooking with real butter. Way to kill a good meal.

Tonight we had delicious crispy sweet-potato chips. Also, paprika and parmesan baked chicken with mushrooms. And for greens: grilled courgettes with balsamic tomatoes and mozzarella. It was scrummy. Although I couldn’t help but note that the chicken was a bit overcooked.

Actually, I have loads to find joy in. There’s a healthy baby brewing in my belly. My Obstetrician checked me over yesterday and can confirm that all is well. Life may not be easy this close to the due date, but there is joy in it nonetheless.

And perhaps that’s where the search-for-happiness often runs amok. A difficult life and a joy-filled life are not at all incompatible. In fact I might venture the opposite. Facing challenges gives us greater capacity for joy.

So I might not get much sleep tonight, I might itch like crazy, and feel awful in the morning, and have no patience for Louis. I might just want to go back to bed – in fact I might do just that. I might feel a bit useless because I’ve done nothing productive all day.

But I will find the joy, damn it, if it’s all that I manage.