Fiction

What's With the STAR WARS Nerdgasm?

5a17973344c712c00f1296a4cb3288ef Many of my friends, even those close to me, confess from time to time that they find it odd I get so geeky about Star Wars.

I never fail to be surprised by this question because: a) duh. It's STAR WARS people! and, b) do I come across as some sort of high brow intellectual or something?

The latter concept makes chuckle because, to me anyway, it has always been clear that I am a nerd at heart. I get unaccountably excited by odd, random things, I spend so much time in my own head that I usually walk around with my hair looking demented and stains on my clothes, and there is nothing that bores me more than being stranded in the middle of some intellectual circle-jerk discussion about cutting edge literary fiction or cryptic films.

Anyway, suffice to say my love for Star Wars goes very, very deep. My first encounter with Han, Leia, and Luke was one of the most profound spiritual awakenings of my life.

It was 1977. I was five years old. My Dad, who was never one for going to the movies, decreed that he was going to take my older sister Suzanne and me to see this new film that everyone was raving about. It was called "Star Something".

I was immediately suspicious. "Is it a cartoon?" I demanded.

"No. It's a real grown-up movie," he said, as if this was a good thing.

No thanks. Anything that wasn't a cartoon held zero interest for me. Grown-ups found boring things riveting, such as conversations about mortgages and the optimal shade for shag carpeting.

How exactly my father managed to drag me to the Odeon movie theatre in downtown Victoria is now lost in the mists of time, but I do remember feeling severely put-upon as I flipped down my movie seat. My Dad reached in his coat pockets and pulled out three full size Mars bars, one for each of us.

"Isn't it funny?" he said. "We're going to watch a movie about space and and we're eating MARS bars!"

I knew the chocolate bars were a peace offering, but I was still dreading the movie. Also, it was about space. I hated watching the documentaries about space on PBS with my parents that never failed to leave me fretful about a meteor falling out of the sky and squashing me. I began chomping resentfully on my galactic sized Mars bar.

The lights went dim and the screen filled with a weird sort of writing that slid backwards instead of side to side the way writing was supposed to. Besides, I couldn't read yet. What if the whole movie was just words on a screen? That would be the kind of useless thing that grown-ups would enjoy, I reckoned.

Then the writing disappeared and the screen filled with a battle on a star ship, and R2-D2, and C3-PO, and Princess Leia. Hey...was that beautiful lady really talking back to those evil grandpas dressed in black? Was that a lazer gun she was shooting?

And I was gone.

Me as I knew myself up until that point vanished like the planet of Alderaan. I wasn't just watching this movie, I was living it. I remained plastered against the back of my seat with the centrifugal force of the story, the half-eaten Mars bar dropped, forgotten, on my lap.

Good vs. Evil. A trio of heroes who were funny, brave, and eventually, friends. Darth Vader who made me want to pee my pants every time he breathed...

I had not know this was possible. I had not known that through a story I could actually live a different life for a while - a life that was more vivid and more real than my own. By the time the Millennium Falcon swopped in with Han at the helm to shoot away Darth Vadar so Luke could take his bull's eye aim at the Death Star exhaust vent I thought my heart was going to explode.

What was this magic that could transport me to another time and place more effectively than a time machine and a tele-transporter all wrapped up into one?

When the medal award ceremony was over and the movie's credits rolled I stayed glued to my chair, as did Suzanne and my Dad.

Finally the lights came back on. My Dad turned to me. "So? What did you think?"

I shook my head, mute. No words. There were no words.

He looked down at my lap. "You didn't finish your Mars bar."

I hadn't. I actually threw it in the garbage can on our way out of the theatre as I was still too deep in my walking Star Wars daydream to consider doing anything as pedestrian as eating.

Up until then I hadn't known such a magic existed, but I knew it was something I wanted and, more than that, needed in my life. It wasn't until I was older that I learned the name for The Force that inspires and fascinates me as much at age forty-three as it did as a five year old sitting in that darkened movie theatre.

The name for it is storytelling. Also, those laser guns are pretty cool...

Faith and Paris

P1130308 I've been struggling a lot with the notion of faith (again) this month.

The attacks in Paris happened right in the middle of a two-week long treatment for me at the local hospital. This involved going every morning to get pumped full of IV antibiotics to try to beat back the infection that has taken up permanent residence in my sick liver and bile ducts.

Every time my liver infection rears its head the physical effects are wretched, but worse still is the mental anguish of not knowing what is going on inside my body and what will happen next. Crippling uncertainty and fear become my constant companions.

Having faith that everything will be OK is one of the hardest things in the world for me, as it turns out. How do I put my faith in a power (call it God, Buddha, Allah, Fate, or the Great Manitou) that has let many of my friends with PSC die despite the fact they had unrelentingly positive outlooks and everything that I don't seem capable of maintaining throughout this journey?

In the midst of my struggles with that conundrum, the attacks in Paris happened. As the news began filtering in I spent several hours feverishly checking in with friends and family to make sure they were safe. I discovered with horror all these innocent people who had thought they were going out to a concert, or for a drink with friends, or for a casual meal, only to be gunned down or blown up in the most cowardly and brutal manner.

How was I supposed to have faith that I would be taken care of by the same power that neglected to protect the victims in Paris and of other attacks over the globe?

Paris has felt like my backyard for all of my adult life. It is a place where I feel safe and nurtured. At the end of August, Franck, myself, and the Bevy were careening around the city in the wee hours of a sultry summer night with our friend Joelle, leaping out of the car to enjoy ice cream cones and an impromptu musical performance by some street musicians on a bridge over the Seine. It was one of those glorious moments when my whole soul throbbed with the joy of being alive. I seem to experience such joie de vivre frequently in Paris.

The day after the Paris attacks Camille said to me, "Mom, is Paris going to be changed forever now? Will it never be the same?"

"No way," I said. "Paris has been through much worse. Paris is resilient. Paris will always be Paris."

I realized after I answered that I had complete faith that this was true.

The day after the attacks my friend Joelle posted on Facebook that she had gone out to a bistro and sat on the terrace for not one, but two drinks. Thousands of other Parisians did the same in the impromptu #jesuisenterrasse movement.

Parisians did not cower in their apartments. They went out and fought terror with joy and wine and fresh croissants.

The Parisian approach gave me a new insight into my struggles. Often, since I got sick, I feel as though the disease is not only destroying my body, but that it is dismantling bit by bit all the things that make me...me.

But now I will remind myself to be like Paris. When things get scary and sad I will fight back by moving ferociously towards LIFE. For me, this means spending time with my family and friends, writing, reading, eating delicious food, beachcombing, creating new things...all the things that remind me that, despite my PSC, there are still so many pleasures to be savoured - so many petits bonheurs du jour as Franck's Aunt Renee always says.

If I could get on a plane right now to join the Paris #jesuisenterrasse movement in person, I would. However, budget and liver are not cooperating so I thought I'd do the next best thing - I could help others travel to France via my Grape Books. Reading is one of my favourite (not to mention most budget-friendly) methods of travel, after all.

I have never discounted my books before because I know better than anyone the work, sweat, and effort that go into creating them for my readers. I don't believe that creatives should get in the habit of undervaluing their efforts. For Paris, though, I have made an exception.

I chose to discount My Grape Year because it recounts how I fell in love with not only France, but Paris. I want everyone to be able to remind themselves of how the French have made an art of enjoying life's small, countless pleasures (which is why, I believe so many of us feel that France is one of our spiritual homes).

So from November 23-30th the Kindle version of My Grape Year will be available on Amazon.com for $0.99 cents instead of the usual $3.99.

Choosing life, again and again and again, is a defiant type of faith. It has allowed Paris to weather hardships over the centuries that would have toppled lesser cities.

In good times and in bad times we should all strive to be like Paris. When things get tough, we can find ourselves again by going #enterrasse.

 

The Best of The Worst of Me

Close-up of old typewriter It's been a rough few weeks. After getting out of the hospital in March and finishing ten days of IV antibiotics for my liver infection I enjoyed five weeks of feeling like A Million Bucks. Well, not other people's version of a million bucks, but a significant improvement on the Varying Shades of Shite that had become my norm. Dammit, I'd take it!

I finished editing My Grape Year, arranged the photo shoot in France for its cover, planned a Creativity workshop for the end of May I am super stoked about, even wondered if I may be able to make it back to Burgundy in July. Then, about six weeks after my IV treatment, I started to slide slowly but inexorably downhill. Nausea, increased pain and discomfort in my liver area, fatigue, weakness, and random fevers. It basically feels like a combo of the stomach flu and the actual flu that waxes and wanes throughout my waking hours. There are no longer good days and bad days, but rather good hours and bad hours, or often, good minutes and bad minutes.

The whites of my eyes are no longer white but rather pale yellow and I'm sure the results of my last batch of bloodwork are going to be pretty horrific. I'm still waiting on the doctors to get back to me with A Plan but I know that sooner or later I am heading towards another all expenses paid stay at Club Med. On top of all that, I'm also nearing my yearly colonoscopy / gastroscopy and my 6 month MRI - always stressful as they look for all variety of nastiness that could disqualify me from a potential liver transplant.

So...yeah. Basically a shit sandwich.

I wake up every morning with a lead weight not only in my liver, but in my soul. A lot of that is physical pain and discomfort, but even worse, I think, is the mental anguish, particularly the intense, crushing anxiety.

I have been thinking a lot about my lifelong struggles with anxiety and the lifelong struggles that so many of my fellow writers have with anxiety. Just for the record, not all writers are headcases - a minority are remarkably sane - but frankly, most of my favorite ones have a bit of the headcase in them.

I see some people deal with serious illness and am amazed at how they just power through and DO.NOT.WORRY.. They do not try to project the future, they do not second guess, they do not doubt...they just decide on an outcome and never mentally sway from that path. How I wish I could be like that.

Instead, I was born with the "what if?" gene. What if they run out of antibiotics that work on my liver infection? What if they find cancer? What if one of my varices ruptures? What if I am approved for transplant but my potential donors can't get vacation time off to be assessed? What if I get a fever when I am supposed to be getting the colonoscopy? What if I die? What if I live? What if, what if, what if, what if, WHAT IF?

Not only is my brain obsessively asking 'what if' all the time like a needle on a skipping record, but it also concocts and projects fully fleshed-out scenes of the various 'what if' scenarios - good and bad. Me being told by the doctor that my PSC has morphed into cancer, me waking up from transplant feeling like I've been reborn, me being counselled by the hospice people as I prepare to die, me on the stage at a TED talk after a successful transplant talking about how creativity saved me...it's all there in turns - the terrifying and the galvanizing, the wretched and the glorious.

Lately, I long to muzzle this overactive 'what if' drive on my brain, but no amount of meditation, gratitude journaling, sessions with spiritual healers, or reflexology seems to be doing the trick. The truth is nothing in my life (and I have tried pretty much everything) has ever changed that aspect of my mind. The 'what if' is as much an innate part of me as my brown hair or my love of the ocean or my fear of knives.

But that 'what if' has a flip side. Without the 'what if' I wouldn't remember my past in terms of scenes and stories and be able to write about it vividly in my memoirs. Without the 'what if' I wouldn't be able to concoct a paranormal romance between a winemaker and a mermaid, as I am doing right now for my first work of fiction. Without the 'what if' no writer would be able to write but because of the 'what if' so many of us writers live with anxiety.

My 'what if' gene is the perfect example of a human paradox; the worst part of me is also the best part of me.

Without 'what if' I would not be waking up every morning with that lead weight of anxiety in my soul, but without my 'what if' I would not have writing in my life as one of my strongest lifelines in these stormy seas.

My reflexologist gave me an interesting idea last week. She said, "how about you try writing down little scenes of your life after a successful transplant?"

I have done that in a little (turquoise) journal - a little snippet per day. I'm surprised at how it is the little things that capture my imagination - not the TED talks as much as being able to volunteer to take Clem's class to the beach, without worrying I may have to bail due to a fever or nausea or a hospitalization, gardening with Franck without needing to rest on the couch, not having to tell my girls I need to head to the hospital again...a normal life - god how I will treasure it if I am lucky enough to get it back.

I am tired of fighting against my essential self. My anxiety, for better or for worse, will probably always be a part of who I am. I am going to invite my 'what-ifitis' on this journey with me, instead of making it stow away in the life-raft. I'll let you know how it goes.

 

Grape Titles!

I have had a lot of people ask me why the books in my Grape Series have similar titles. They do indeed: My Grape Year (currently writing)

My Grape Paris (to be written)

My Grape Escape (published)

My Grape Village (published)

My Grape Town (to be written)

My Grape Baby (to be written)

Interspersed between these will be a scattering of smaller memoirs (memoirellas?) such as My Grape Wedding, My Grape Cellar, My Grape Summer, etc.

For our French life, "grape" has always been highly emblematic. Our network of vacation rentals is called "Grape Rentals". I liked the play on the word "great" plus in my mind a grape evokes so many things that are profoundly Burgundian - the earth, tradition, the rhythm of the seasons, the combination of man and nature to create something truly sublime...

These titles came to me right away, whereas the title for my paranormal romance continues to elude me. The working title is "Silver Fish", pulled from the poem by early Canadian poet Isabella Valency Crawford that inspired my epic story idea over a decade ago.

The line goes "Love is like a silver fish, shy of line and shy of gaffing."

Unfortunately, I was informed very quickly by my fellow writers (who are, thank god, blunt when they need to be) that "silverfish" were also pestilential insects that called for reliable fumigaters. Not really an association I wanted for a paranormal romance. So....back to the drawing board, except that I'm still waiting for that lightning bolt of inspiration. If you have any ideas, please help me!

Anyway, back to The Grape Series. I realized after I had already decided on the "Grape" titles that one of the reasons having the almost-identical title repeated again and again was that it reminded me of my first love in the world of memoir writing:

little_house_on_the_prairie

Who else is with me on this one?

At Thanksgiving dinner this weekend when my sisters and I were gushing over the "Little House" series my brother-in-law Mark said, "Christ! I frickin' hated those goddamned books." Maybe there is a gender split here, but in any case I LOVED them. Also, I have never forgotten this section near the end of Little House in the Big Woods that struck me as a six-year-old when my mom read Suzanne and I the whole series one winter, and stays with me still. To me, it embodies the magic of memoir:

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, "What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?"

"They are the days of a long time ago, Laura," Pa said. "Go to sleep, now."

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa's fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, "This is now."

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.