True Mourning - In The Apartment - Not Cemetery

I realize that the kids aren't dying and I should probably grow a pair but every time I have to say goodbye to these little creatures at the end of a contract, it feels a lot like a death in my heart. It's the only bad part of this job (when you're dealing with reasonable human beings for parents, that is), I think partly because the years I manage are already temporary by definition. Toddler memory is particularly fallible too which makes matters even more complicated. You share these strong bonds with these children, bonds that feel a lot like family, like true love. And then one day, you are no longer needed (or you must go for your own reasons) and when you return, it's like nothing ever was. Children do not remember these years. They do not remember your face or your voice. Your time with them - though insanely important - feels totally inconsequential. They look at you now and do not recognize you as a person they once loved. They look at you like a stranger. Because you are. Because that toddler doesn't exist anymore.
Yesterday Ari told me I was beautiful and Mila told me she loved me so much and I burst into uncontrollable tears. Absurd but I feel a bit like I'm in mourning this week - so many ups and downs - out of nowhere, 'true mourning, in the apartment not cemetery,' 
Anyway, to all of you parents out there who get to spend a lifetime watching your children grow, count your blessings and don't take any of it for granted, and be especially thankful that you never have to say 'goodbye' to your children, it's heart-wrenching! 
As someone who's been at the helm of at least a dozen childrens' 'toddler years' now, I can tell you from experience that although they are surely the most challenging years, they are also the most rewarding - For YOU, that is. I carry the memory of all of these children with me, everywhere I go, knowing they will not exist like this again but that I was there, with my eyes open to see them grow and become more human, to listen to all they've had to say - moving from nonsense to reason - and learning to love them, ever so naturally. I try hard to capture their beauty in photos so I can share a little of this magic but it's impossible. I work hard too to remember their faces and their words so that they are not really gone even if they age. But they are, I know they are and I must learn to let go because I know that they will grow up and grow old, like everyone must and more than that: because I will be quickly forgotten to them (this is how human the brain works). But the beauty and innocence of these years is incomparable to everything else I have experienced in life and although it can be hard, I wouldn't trade it for the world. Living in a perpetual state of this: i.e.: specializing in toddler years, has been both a gift for my soul and incredibly difficult to shoulder all by myself but it's made me a stronger, better person and I'm thankful for each and every little being I've had the pleasure (and pain) of caring for. These kids will all grow up to be different people than they are today and because their parents remain witnesses to all that follows, I am the ONE person who is left with these very particular & vivid memories of a very special time. For that reason (and that reason alone), I am the luckiest woman alive.
So I will continue to live here in Paris, alone, surrounded by my little ghosts and haunted by our good times together until I learn to to be truly ok with being completely forgotten but I won't lie, at times it's really tough. Like all of the best love stories, I suppose.

you can, with your little
hands, drag me
into the grave - you
have the right-
who follow you, I
let myself go-
-but if you wish, the two of us,
let us make...
an alliance
a hymen, superb
-and the life
remaining in me
I will use for - 
to do with the great
-as long as we go on living, he
lives-in us
it will only be after our
death that he will be dead
-and the bells
of the Dead will toll for
your life that
goes by, that flows
Setting sun
and wind
now vanished, and
wind of nothing
that breathes
death-whispers softly
-I am no one -
I do not even know who I am
(for the dead do not
know they are
dead-,nor even that they
-for children
at least
for otherwise
my beauty is
made of last
lucidity, beauty
face-of what would be
me, without myself
Oh! you understand
that if I consent
to live-to seem
to forget you-
it is to
feed my pain
-and so that this apparent
can spring forth more
horribly in tears, at
some random
moment, in
the middle of this
life, when you
appear to me
true mourning in
the apartment
-not cemetery-
to find only
-in presence
of little clothes
no-I will not
give up
feel nothingness
invade me



Gone Fishin'

Losing a parent has been even harder than I ever expected. I made it through the slow death-by-cancer and then the funeral part in one piece but once all of that's over, once the house becomes quiet again and holidays come and go, leaving you feeling empty, there you find an unearthed desperation that longs to find some way to continue your relationship with the lost parent. In my case, I started fishing in the strangest of places, looking for my Dad.
My father loved to fish. The annual family fishing stag was a big ordeal in our house and it drove me mad. As a young girl, I quite liked fishing. My grandfather taught me how on Rice Lake and I could spend afternoons out there all by myself, just staring into the water and dreaming of a big catch. Apart from taking the slimey fish off the hook at the end, I found the entire process both soothing and exciting at the same time. But the fishing stag was a male-only event - only the sons and uncles, fathers and grandfathers and male friends of the family were allowed to participate. The young feminist in me found this tradition cruel and sexist. Especially since we girls were meant to go 'shopping' while the men were out in their boats. I didn't want to shop. I wanted to drink and smoke and gamble on who was going to catch the biggest fish of the weekend.
When I finally got back to Paris, my father's would-be 60th birthday was approaching and I wasn't sure how to handle it. I wanted to find a way to pay tribute to him on my own, somehow continue our relationship in one way or another. He had no grave to visit. His ashes lay in my mother's apartment in Newcastle, a million miles from where I live. So I decided to put on my waders & my bowler and head to the Seine to fish for my Dad. Pretend to fish, of course because the only thing you're finding in that water are some dismembered body parts and empty beer cans.
The first time was one of the funnier experiences of my life. Thanks to RyleyAngela, I had the confidence to sport the look of a young man by the Seine with a fake fishing rod made out of a broom handle, some beading thread & some crystals while the French stared at me like I was the strangest woman in the world. We blared Louis Armstrong & Frank Sinatra's 'Gone Fishin'' on the stereo and went for it, taking turns casting our lines into the fishless Seine. It was a wonderful sunset full of laughter and liquor and cigarettes. My father would have loved it.
You see, one of his last words of advice to us was to work less and spend more time fishing. By fishing he meant a lot of things: enjoying friendships & family, good company and conversation, good times, mostly. His warning was not to do as he had done and spend a lifetime worrying about nothing but money and work. In the end it all meant nothing and he wished he'd spent more of it - ALL OF IT - just fishing.
The next year, I invited new friends to do the same and it has become an annual March tradition on my Dad's birthday to come out in your most 'male' attire and to fish in an unlikely place with me, for my father. My friends have been ultra supportive and these 'fishing' trips have left me with my own happy memories, which I think was the best birthday present I could've offered my Dad. I believe it's what he would have wanted anyway.
It isn't about the catch, of course. Fishing rarely is. It's about good friends and feeling good. It's about doing nothing. It's about a good laugh and surely, nothing is funnier than being dressed in costume in the streets of oh-so-serious Paris, fake-fishing through dirty looks from the French along the Seine. The pictures make me smile every time I see them and for the past three years, at least for one evening of the year, it feels like my Dad isn't gone. I know that the photos would have irritated him a little, he'd have found it absurd me fishing in a fishless river in downtown Paris, dressed like a man. We argued about a lot, though and pretending I'm getting under his skin a little makes me feel even more like he's still around. Like our relationship goes on, despite his permanent absence. 
I hope it's a tradition that I will keep up all my life.



If fear was the goal, the attacks missed their mark and then some. Immediately following three days of violence in our city with the threat of racial confrontation, bombs, riots, etc. - very real dangers - we piled into the streets with our daisies blazing, not our guns. If the plan was to divide the people, which I very much expect it was, terrorists failed miserably.
Imagine. 2 million people in the streets of Paris. We were all coming from different parts of the city.  Corey was at Chatelet and walking with the masses from there. Emma & I from Ledru Rollin, Elsa from the 19th, Elodie in the 20th - all of us blocked so far from our rdv point that getting to Republique was not even an option. I had been warned earlier that morning by worriers to be so careful. About how foolish Hollande was to suggest a rally so soon after the attacks. But we weren't afraid. And that wasn't because of the police presence.
Now, I'm sure there were the occasional morons wandering around wondering where this Charlie fellow was but I don't think I've ever witnessed such a gathering of minds in all my life. People were informed. Most of us, it seemed, were not there for Charlie, we'd stood vigil for those victims Wednesday, Thursday and Friday already in equally impressive rallies of support. Of course we were horrified by what happened to them but even standing at Voltaire with a couple of friends of those who were murdered, the atmosphere was light. We weren't there because Francois Hollande said so, either. We weren't there to protect our freedom of speech. And we definitely didn't come out to watch all of those heads of state hold hands (btw, where the fuck were YOU, Harper?!), we knew we'd never get close enough to see that anyway. So why were we coming out by the thousands?
You've all heard me rant for years about my experiences immigrating to this country. It has not been easy and yet, I have ZERO doubt that for me, it has been a cakewalk compared to what most others experience going through the same process. I know this because even as an immigrant, I am treated differently because of the colour of my skin and my country of origin. Between the CPAM's tendency to 'lose dossiers' if they don't appreciate your tone of voice, the visa renewal office's perpetual power trip of making people wait outside in the cold for hours or putting certain people ahead of the line, demanding more proof for some than they do for others for no other reason than pure racism. Segregated hospital quarters for those 'sans papiers'. Secret low income pharmacies in basements. There is a larger problem in this country and this march was a huge spotlight on that issue, more than any other.
People everywhere were talking about the fact that so many news sources had changed the death toll from 20 to 17, excluding the three terrorists from the count. But in Paris, 20 people were killed this week, make no mistake. Of course I feel as much anger towards those three men as you do for what they've done to so many innocent people but the deeper issue here is that France was attacked by three of their own. Three nationals who felt abandoned and betrayed by their country and leapt right into the arms of a manipulative organization that was willing to treat them as one of them, not an 'other'. I heard many speaking of this before, during and after the march. Although it is hard to see it now, those men were victims too. Victims of a country that let them down.
LIBERTY, FRATERNITY, EQUALITY - for some more than others.
On an even MORE interesting note, I was thinking back over my integration courses a few years back, part of the obligatory process of becoming French and remembering being in a room full of people from all countries & religions being taught that SECULARISM had recently been added to the list. The fact that not a soul has talked about this since is a good indication of the on-going problem in France. In this country, not everyone has the right to equality. Not everyone is welcomed as a brother. Not everyone is treated equally. And now you're teaching the next generation of Muslim immigrants that they must be secular while the rest of France is not required to observe this as law? Really guys? It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see the discrepancies. No wonder there is anger bubbling up and boiling over.
However, yesterday, change was brewing in Paris. People were talking about THIS. THIS was why we were all gathered here together, peacefully. Because we were well aware that this problem exists and needs to be addressed. The perpetual inequality in this country is more than partly to blame for the unnecessary violence that occurred in Paris this week. We were not afraid because we were as much the enemy as anyone if we couldn't admit this fact. We marched because we needed to be reminded of the tenets we're meant to uphold as a nation, as a planet.
What happens next is integral. But if yesterday was any indication of things to come then we are on our way to a better world. One with a big lens directed at these problems that rip us to shreds and the consequences of what happens if this change isn't accelerated and accepted.
Yesterday, for the first time since I moved here, I was very proud to be almost French. We are a country of so many different cultures, constantly struggling to co-exist & uphold our differences in peace amidst the constant threat of inequality from the administrations that rule over us. I am proud because I feel ONE with the people. All people.
Paris is one complicated town - at times infuriatingly so - but in all its piss stained corners, sardine-squished metros, incessant noises and sirens and constant tendency toward brutal honesty in everything from customer service to cartoons, it is a city that we love and cherish too. Not for its government but for the international citizens that comprise the LIGHT in the City of Lights.
Yesterday was one of the most beautiful gatherings of solidarity I have ever witnessed and I am optimistic that this attack will only result in an unprecedented unity in this country and not the divide that was intended.
Like I tell the kids every day, the only way to deal with a bully is to ignore them. Responding with violence of any kind, no matter how angry and frustrated you might feel, will only make you as bad as them. Ignore them and find another way to amuse yourself. They'll come around eventually and want to join in on all of the fun, you'll see.
We have a long path ahead of us but I am hopeful that change is possible and humbled thinking that so many of us are prepared to stand up for our beliefs. Changing the word 'WAR' to 'CHALLENGE' on terrorism is not enough. We have serious work to do and a duty to uphold if we hope to protect our country and our values from those that seek to dismantle it. May we never forget again. 

May we stay informed and stand up for LIBERTY, FRATERNITY, EQUALITY AND SECULARISM. ONE and ALL.


Presenting: The Lemon Tree House

It is with great pleasure that I present The Lemon Tree House Writers' Residency Sept 13 to 27, 2014