Why I started “dressing kind”…
I’ve had a few former guests burst into tears when I tell them this. Such is the magic of this property - the first one we ever renovated and which symbolizes my pivot from anxiety-riddled Oxford law student to well...everything that came after. The creation of our vacation rentals, our five years in Burgundy, Clémentine, my writing and books…
It's May 1st, which in France is a National Holiday and a symbol of new beginnings. On May Day, it's a centuries old tradition to buy bouquets of lily-of-the-valley (called muguet in French) on the streets all over France. The lily-of-the-valley is symbolic of the love, joy, and new life Spring brings.
Fittingly, today My Grape Paris is finally available for digital download or to purchase in paperback. This book, the fifth in my Grape Series, is also very much a Spring miracle.
Wednesday of last week was one of the best days of my life, even though it had a wretched beginning.
I sat in a medical examination room at the transplant centre in Calgary, waiting for my doctor to arrive. My hands were shaking, my heart was pounding, and there was definitely some PTSD throwing a party in my nervous system.
Forty minutes later I walked (OK, more like danced) out of the transplant centre with the verdict that I was thriving. Nyssa's liver was happy in my body (but not nearly as happy as my body is to have Nyssa's liver - I can guarantee that). Just goes to show you that a day that starts out dire doesn't always stay that way.
As we pulled into our driveway after the flight home I spied an Amazon box on our doorstep. The proofs of My Grape Paris had arrived...this miracle book that at times last year I honestly thought I would not be alive to finish.
Even if I sold zero copies of My Grape Paris, it would still be a complete triumph to hold this book in my hands. I tore open the box, grabbed the copy of top, and held it to my chest. I made a strange sound that was somewhere between a yelp and laugh. I may have cried.
Thanks to my lovely readers, I have in fact sold hundreds of copies of My Grape Paris on pre-order, which makes me so grateful to have reached so many people with my writing. My readers are, quite simply, the best.
Today I want to take a moment to say a huge MERCI to you all. By reading my writing, you made me feel supported and understood throughout these crazy six years. You are the reason I am the bestselling writer I am today, and that actually I am still here at all. Writing - which means you readers I wanted to share my stories with - was my lifeline.
For that, I'd like to give you this virtual bouquet of muguet, along with a massive merci.
I wish you a joyful May 1st with much love, joy, and Spring magic.
Thanks too from these crazy kids, living together in Paris, trying to make their dreams come true but unsure whether those dreams can be realized together.
If you already have your copy of My Grape Paris or plan to buy one soon, I hope it provides many hours of reading joy, romance, daydreams, and laughter.
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There was a problem when I was writing My Grape Paris, and it wasn't one of my usual struggles with dialogue, overwriting, or pacing. The problem was that I knew I might be too dead to finish.
Exactly a year ago I was dying. My body was letting me know loud and clear that it was shutting down. The smell of my beloved chocolate made me nauseous. An impenetrable fog had rolled into my brain and wouldn't clear. My skin was the delicate shade of a Chiquita banana. All I wanted to do was sleep, all the time. Everything hurt.
And yet, I kept writing My Grape Paris. Some days a word or two was all I could manage. Sometimes five hundred words, or even a thousand. Not quality words, but each one was a microcosm of hope that I would be around to make it better.
Even though I was on the transplant list at the U of A hospital in Edmonton, my blood test scores weren't bad enough to put me high enough on the list to qualify for a donated liver. That's the way it is with the auto-immune disease I had (PSC)—the standard tests rarely reflect how the disease is killing us.
One amazing friend had been tested as a living donor and was rejected after a surgery date had been scheduled because our bile duct anatomy didn't match up. Another was approved but backed out because of understandable personal reasons. A third donor, my friend Nyssa, was being tested in Edmonton, but I was too battle-scarred to let myself hope anymore. Plugging away on My Grape Paris was the only way I would allow myself to keep faith.
Just in case the third time (or, in this case, the third potential donor) proved a charm, I was doing all the paperwork for the transplant to go ahead if Nyssa was approved. I remember having to decide the exact number of days I wanted to be left on a respirator before they could unplug me. Twenty? Thirty?
Death was riding shotgun with me all day, every day, but in that paradoxical way of being on the transplant list, I had to simultaneously prepare for my demise while hoping for a rebirth.
I knew I could die waiting for transplant. Many friends of mine in the PSC community had, and it was devastating and unreal every time. Even if I did get a transplant, I was informed by my transplant team of the numerous ways that the high-risk surgery could kill me. They wanted to make sure I was heading into my uncertain future with my eyes wide open. Mission accomplished. They were pried open with toothpicks of terror.
Still, I kept writing. My Grape Paris reminded me of the amazing experiences I had been privileged to have. I found myself circling back to the theme of choosing love, again and again.
A week later I was typing more words for My Grape Paris (on the couch, between multi-hour-long naps) when the phone rang. It was Nyssa calling from Edmonton.
"What are you doing next Wednesday?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"How about you come to Edmonton and I give you a piece of my liver?"
Exactly one week later, Nyssa and I waited on our gurneys with our ridiculous puffy hair caps in the waiting pen of our side-by-side ORs. Were we actually doing this? We held hands and cried. When they finally managed to detach us from each other, they wheeled me into a massive OR that smelled like disinfected steel and was filled with about thirty people bustling around.
I had time to think. None of these people were paying any attention to me; they were too busy making sure everything was ready so they could save my life.
I could never live with myself if Nyssa died, but if I died...for the first time in my life I could envision that possibility without fear. By some miracle, I felt at peace with this thing I was never able to reconcile with before.
I had chosen love in my life, and without me realizing it, love was turning out to be the main theme of My Grape Paris. If I didn’t make it, I knew I had left some of myself for my daughters in my books. Of course I wanted more, but if it ended there...that was enough. Plenty, in fact.
Looking back, I can now see that writing My Grape Paris was my way of holding space for miracles.
The fact that it will soon be in your hands is proof they happen.
I wrote this blog post to honour PSC Awareness week. This is my PSC & liver transplant story (so far). I hope sharing it will give other people hope and raise awareness for this rare disease. If you're mainly here for the francophile stuff you may want to skip this one. It is proof that life can get messy at times, but that sometimes those are the most revelatory times of all.
When I was diagnosed with a rare and untreatable auto-immune liver disease five years ago called PSC I had no idea how to cope. My family has always had horse-shoes shoved up their rears as far as health went. Nobody in my family had ever, as I have come to call it, "lost their medical virginity" i.e. been diagnosed with a disease that could prove fatal.
I had no road map to follow. Franck, however, did...