I’ve been blinkered lately – noveling and not much else. I’ve been going to the playground each afternoon and having more and more french conversations (which is very encouraging) but it’s hard to connect.

Perhaps when my french has improved. Perhaps when I’ve known people a bit longer. I haven’t made it to a coffee group (all english-speakers) in a couple of weeks. I really meant to this week but things happened… and so here’s hoping I can get to the writer’s group in Paris on Saturday.

Desperate to get out and alone, on Wednesday evening, I left Luuk (poor, good Luuk) with the baby and a bottle, and went for a walk by myself.

I walked down a road in our neighbourhood that we’ve driven a hundred times, but I haven’t walked it more than twice, and never on my own. I notice a lot more when I’m by myself.

Like this gorgeous house – though I suspect it’s two apartments. One side had all bright blue frames and fittings and eaves, the other all red. I could come up with a whole story about the people living in these… a novella for the Paris Literary Prize?

Might be leaving it a bit late. Competition closes 1 September and I need to finish my novel before I get well and truly stuck. I always do this, close to the end. I don’t know if it’s a kind of empty-nest syndrome – not wanting to let it go – or if I get nervous about having to let someone read it.

I certainly worry that I’m going to get it wrong – as if there is a right and wrong way to finish the story, as if the story is a buried artifact and I’m not creating it, just discovering it.

Which sounds good but is, I suspect, utter bollocks.

I was refreshed from my walk – fresh air, time alone, exercise… but also for seeing beauty, for being observant and present and appreciating the beauty around me. So I’ve been trying to do that at home, rather than getting bogged down in the purpose of things.

So here’s something beautiful, I think. I love these lampshades and at a few euro each they were conveniently the cheapest lampshades in all of ikea, or anywhere else for that matter. This is the view if you stand in the middle of our kitchen and look up.

If you look down…

Another of my simple pleasures… though I really need to cut back. Post pregnancy I have rediscovered just how delicious coffee is. I drank black while I was pregnant but didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I do now. I now take my coffee white, or with sugar, but not both, and not neither.

And I won’t object to a little chocky on the side. Paris cafes are very obliging in this. I am happy to assimilate in many ways, and the attitude to chocolate is one of them – a little bit of top notch stuff on a regular basis. Superb!

On the subject of beauty, I came across this passage in Les Miserables,

The garden, which had been rather spoiled by the ugly buildings which we have mentioned, was composed of four alleys in cross-form, radiating from a tank. Another walk made the circuit of the garden, and skirted the white wall which enclosed it. These alleys left behind them four square plots rimmed with box. In three of these, Madame Magloire cultivated vegetables; in the fourth, the Bishop had planted some flowers; here and there stood a few fruit-trees. Madame Magloire had once remarked, with a sort of gentle malice: “Monseigneur, you who turn everything to account, have, nevertheless, one useless plot. It would be better to grow salads there than bouquets.” “Madame Magloire,” retorted the Bishop, “you are mistaken. The beautiful is as useful as the useful.” He added after a pause, “More so, perhaps.

I just love that.

It can be tempting to focus on what is obviously practical, useful, productive. And it can be tempting to hide away from the world, to focus on our work. But I suspect our work, and our souls, suffer for it.

There is a time for blinkered single-minded focus, but it probably isn’t a very long time. I’ve been watching a bit of the Olympic games (and getting rather frustrated at how little I can see of the NZ competitors here on French tv…) Olympians are, without a doubt, an excellent example of focus. A few of them are an excellent, cautionary example of too much focus. The badminton players expelled for match-fixing had become so focused on winning that they lost perspective on everything else.

So I will resist isolation temptation. It might boost my word count but at what cost? None of us are just one thing. I am not only a writer. Those women are not only badminton players – though they’ll probably be remembered for little else now.

On that note, I should stop neglecting Louis. He has brought me four books and clearly wants reading to… (how cool, though, that they’re in three different languages?)