Where has she been? Turns out I have a stellar answer...
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...
Thanks to the popularity of my first two posts in this series, Five Life-Enhancing French Habits to Adopt Today and Three More French Habits to Enhance Your Life I've come up with some further things I was first exposed to during my many years living in France and which add pleasure, ease, and authenticity to our daily lives here at chez Germain, such as...
Wishing you all the merriest of Christmases, whether you find yourselves in Burgundy, or Africa, or Northern Canada. I hope you are surrounded by loved ones and joy. Here is an excerpt I wrote about a past Christmas in Burgundy (including plenty of food & wine porn) when we were knee deep in renovations at La Maison des Chaumes...Joyeux Noël!
Following my recent blog post about the antiques we found to furnish La Maison des Chaumes (our other vacation rental in Villers-la-Faye) here is a peek at our finds at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne - our 16th Century restored winemaker's cottage just steps from the Burgundian vineyards...
Our French vacation rentals began with our simple, typically Burgundian village house in Magny-les-Villers - La Maison des Deux Clochers. It happened to date back to the same year the Revolutionaries in Paris stormed the Bastille, but it waited for us until 1998.
We were in no position to buy a house in France, especially not one built in 1789 that undoubtedly held a bouquet of surpises for us along the lines of ancient plumbing and a leaking roof (and nesting snakes in the cellar, as it turned out)...
One of the main reasons I began writing my Grape books was because there were stories I wanted my daughters to know and I didn't know if I would be around to tell them.
Many of you know how the morning after I was diagnosed with PSC I began writing My Grape Escape and didn't finish until I self-published it about nine months later. A simple Google search (FYI: NEVER a good idea with health stuff) will tell you that PSC kills off its victims in a myriad of inventive and heartless ways. Early on, a specialist in Vancouver said to me, "You have to accept that you have a life-threatening disease. You could die of sepsis tomorrow, or be diagnosed with liver or bile duct cancer next week. That is your reality now."
Blunt, to be sure, yet effective.
No doctor, however, could ever tell me exactly how one goes about "accepting" such a reality. Probably because such an existential question of reconciling life and death strikes at the heart of the mystery of our human journey - a mystery that people have been grappling with ever since they made handprints of their own hands on the wall of a cave in Chauvet, France 32,000 years ago.
I wrote feverishly, telling the stories of how I decided to leave behind an Oxford degree and prestigious career legal career path to throw myself into the unknown, how I struggled with panic attacks and anxiety, how it slowly dawned on me that life didn't need to be perfect to be wonderful, how it was wiser to collect les petits bonheurs than to harbour unrealistic expectations of life, how sometimes it was impossible to make yourself happy and to make others happy too...
These were things my three girls needed to know. I had no desire for them to read my books immediately - once they were published my stories would be there when they needed them. That is the magic of art, and writing, and books. They give us a sliver of immortality in a finite world.
However, an unexpected thing happened on the path of telling my stories. It was only when I was about half way through my latest book, My Grape Year, that I realized how creating - in my case writing - was the best course of therapy I had ever embarked upon.
Immediately after I was diagnosed with PSC I called in the cavalry. I set up appointments with acupuncturists, spiritual healers, RMTs, therapists, as well as bought a juicer and eliminated sugar, grains, dairy products, and caffeine from my diet. My whole life became about curing myself from this bizarre, rare, and unpredictable disease.
It didn't work. Not only did eliminating every pleasurable form of sustenance and living off juiced kale started to make death seem like a not entirely unappealing option, but my days were so full of appointments that my battle to stay alive left me no time to actually live.
I am generally a big fan of therapy, but in this case once we had talked for a few sessions about my health situation, the therapist (and there were a few) and me would inevitably end up staring at each other with nothing more to say. The whole PSC situation was certainly not the worst thing in the world, but sucketh, it did. It was one of those types of burdens that cannot be eliminated. It had to be carried, and nobody could tell me how. I had to figure it out for myself.
So blindly, compulsively, I kept writing. I wrote my Grape books out of order. At first this made no sense to me, but one day it finally dawned on me that, on the contrary, it made perfect sense.
My Grape Escape is all about faith, huge life changes, and trying to build a whole-hearted, authentic life even when things are far from perfect. I wrote it during that first year post diagnosis when my life had been turned on its head and I needed to find a new way of living with and in the face of my PSC.
My Grape Village is about the challenges of adapting to a new life with a family - finding community, balancing your needs with those of the people you love the most, finding happiness via les petit bonheur du jour despite the challenges life throws at one's head, and the humbling realization that life never stops providing us lessons, especially at those very moments when we believe we know it all.
My Grape Year was written at a time when my PSC had started to become extremely symptomatic, forcing me to embark on uncharted territory. I was terrified and needed to find courage. I found it in my bold 17 year old self - that girl with her head full of romance and dreams who left Canada and flew almost half way around the world to seek out love and a different way of living. I cannot tell you how many times I woke up during my writing of My Grape Year, either in the hospital or home, paralyzed by visceral terror. My body was slowly, irrevocably getting sicker, I was learning how the transplant system in Canada was both political and ineffective, especially for us PSCers, and my disease was stripping away every part of me that made me me. It was only going back to the manuscript of My Grape Year that made me remember that I was strong and that I was bold and that I had done scary things before and that doing those scary things had transformed my life.
I wept over my keyboard countless times. I laughed over it too. Initially when people asked me why I was writing my Grape Books out of order I would just laugh and say that my mind wasn't linear. This is completely true, but now I look back on the order and it makes perfect sense. The story I wrote always dealt with issues that I needed to work through the most at that time.
Right now I am finishing up edits on My Grape Wedding and I am realizing that this books deals with a time of crisis in my life too, when my panic attacks were probably at their debilitating. Paradoxically, it also deals with one of the most joyful times in my life - the summer when Franck and I got married in Burgundy, France. This rite of passage not only marked a new beginning, but a time when I was surrounded and lifted up by the love and support of friends and family from all over the world.
Could it be a metaphor for my approaching transplant? I certainly hope so.
I haven't actually received that many entries into my Noel Grape Giveaway - running a giveaway in December when everyone is so insanely busy with the Holidays probably wasn't that strategic on my part. As most of you know, my marketing "plan" tends to go something like this: me becoming overcome by the spirit of generosity and the need to thank my readers for their amazingness and consequently putting one of our vacation rentals up for grabs. Yep. That's about all the forethought that goes into marketing decisions for me. Ready. Aim. Fire.
But...what does my utter lack of marketing savvy mean for you? It means your chances of winning a free week stay at La Maison des Chaumes are tres, tres bien.
Also, I expanded the rules slightly beyond those written in my first post about the giveaway. You can review any or all of my three grape books, My Grape Year, My Grape Escape, and My Grape Village. For each review you post to BOTH Amazon and Goodreads you earn an entry (one for each, I mean).
So, for someone who has read all of my Grape books, they could potentially earn SIX entries by writing reviews for each book on both Amazon and Goodreads.
Also, if you are outside of the US you can earn additional entries by posting both a review on Amazon.com and then another one on your country's Amazon site (i.e. Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, etc.). It is just a matter of cutting and pasting the review...
All you have to do after that is send me a quick email to email@example.com to let me know where you have posted reviews and I will add your entries in the draw. There is nothing I love more than helping my readers actually experience the magic of Burgundy for themselves.
I'm telling you right now that your chances are GOOD. I mean, sans blague.
Also, a huge merci to everyone who has already posted thoughtful and lovely reviews (although I appreciate ALL reviews, even the two star ones). I am a lucky, lucky writer indeed.
I had a humdinger of a panic attack last Wednesday. Many readers ask me after reading My Grape Escape and My Grape Village whether I still get them. Short and honest answer - yes, as last Wednesday proves, I certainly do.
I no longer waste precious time and energy trying to eliminate panic attacks from my life. I have been having them, after all, at random intervals since my mid-teens. They come. They go. They are always epically unpleasant and unwelcome.
I no longer believe they happen for a reason. I have come to the conclusion that searching for triggers or reasons for my panic attacks is a colossal waste of time.
On Wednesday, I was just sitting on the couch talking to a friend on the phone when my heart started beating faster than usual. The anxious part of my brain seized on this and started going, "Why is your heart beating faster? Something must be wrong! Redalertredalertredalert!!!"
Within three minutes my hands were shaking and my mind was spinning in that hellish anxiety vortex, making note of every uncomfortable physical sensation, amplifying it by approximately a million, and creating a logical case for my imminent demise (or worse yet, being trapped in a situation I can't control aka Just Kill Me Now).
Even though I consider myself a writer, I find myself at a loss for words when I try to describe the intensity and sheer terror of a panic attack to anyone who has not experienced one before. Conversely, when I talk about panic attacks with people who have experienced them, words are not necessary. I can just tell by looking in their eyes that they get it.
Even though I hate them I have come to a place of acceptance that they stem from a glitch in the way my brain is wired. I think we ALL have glitches in how our brain is wired. Some people have the depression glitch, some people have the jealousy glitch, some people have the fear-of-intimacy glitch...as for my brain, I suspect my panic attack glitch is the same or closely related to the part of my brain that allows me to imagine and write.
I am no longer ashamed of my anxiety. Indeed I think the stigma around mental health is one of the most corrosive forces in existence. However, I certainly don't want to feed my anxiety by treating it like the most exotic, fascinating animal in my own personal zoo either. I think my creativity, love for Star Wars, and humour are all vastly more interesting than my anxiety. Still, panic attacks are part of my emotional hard-wiring and chances are I will most likely have to co-exist with them for the rest of my life.
Something interesting, though, has been happening in the midst of my panic attacks since I began taking my writing and creativity seriously. In the middle of my Wednesday anxiety roller coaster ride, in the midst of my shaking hands and my pounding heart and my spinning head full of thoughts of certain and imminent doom, another little voice popped up. I like to think of this particular voice as the voice of my creative self.
"Remember Tillly?" it whispered to me (Tilly is the protagonist in my paranormal romance - she doesn't suffer from anxiety disorder but she does experience plenty of well-warranted fear). "You have to remember how you are feeling right now. How exactly is your heart pounding? What muscles are contracting in your chest so it feels like you cannot take a full breath? What is making you so viscerally uncomfortable right now? You have to make note and remember so that you can depict Tilly's fear more effectively."
One of the things that I am trying to learn through my mediation practice is to create some distance between myself and my thoughts and physical sensations that are always, even though they never feel like it at the time, transitory. Meditation encourages us to be curious about our thoughts and feelings without judging them.
Creativity does the same thing. By looking at my panic attack-y feelings and thoughts as a potential writer hoping to harvest them for future use, I create some much-needed space between myself and the deeply uncomfortable sensations my crocodile brain is creating for me.
The sensations are still wretched, but having curiosity about them brings a glimmer of transcendence. And then, when I actually use the material, which I always do sooner or later, the circle is complete. I have used my own misery to do a better job of writing and to hopefully make others who have felt profound visceral fear (and who hasn't?) feel less alone.
In other words, for people who have managed to carve out a creative outlet for themselves, even the really, really bad stuff is useful. Through our creativity we make even the unwanted and the uninvited serve a purpose. As I have said before, IT'S ALL MATERIAL.
I am not a subscriber to the belief that bad things happen for a reason, but I DO believe that we can choose to give even the yuckiest things meaning. This ability, in fact, is one of the things that makes us uniquely human.
Creativity won't make my panic attacks disappear for good (godammit), but it does make them slightly easier to cope with, and remains one of the most best ways for me to render useful something that is inherently useless.
How did we find ourselves in December already?
No matter. December is the month for giving things away and I LOVE giving things away to my readers. I especially love giving them the opportunity to travel to Burgundy and experience for themselves its special magic that I try to convey in my Grape books.
So, my Noel Grape Books Giveaway will have the prize of a free week at La Maison des Chaumes - our home in Villers-la-Faye, Burgundy, France. This three bedroom house with a huge deck and garden is located in the same village where Franck's family live, where he grew up, and where we fell in love, as I write about in My Grape Year.
My Grape Year has hit #1 on the Amazon "France" bestseller list several times since I self-published it in late September. I have all of you to thank for that and I am so grateful to have such an amazing community of Francophiles and book loving people who support my writing.
Without further ado, here are the rules & regs:
- the week at La Maison des Chaumes can be redeemed whenever, subject only to availability, and can also be gifted to another person if you wish
- all you need to do to enter is write a review for My Grape Year on either Amazon.com (or any of its affiliate websites (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, etc.) or Goodreads and then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know where the review has been posted (I need this because I often can't contact people via their Amazon or Goodreads screen names). If you post on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Goodreads, for example, you'll receive three entries.
- if you have already written one or more review(s) for My Grape Year just let me know via email as above - that counts too (and MERCI for posting a review so promptly)
- it doesn't matter if your review is one star or five stars - they all count and I am grateful for them all. The only thing is that you do have to have read the book in order to write a valid review - just common sense and good ethics
- entries will be accepted until midnight on December 25th and the draw will happen and the winner will be announced the day after Boxing Day (December 27th)
Bonne chance to tout le monde! I hope you all have a merry, sparkling, and joyous December filled with lost of delicious cheese.
I was busy getting in some words for the upcoming My Grape Wedding memoir-ette and before logging off the computer I checked Amazon and - le voila! - the MY GRAPE YEAR paperback is now available!
It is three dollars more than my previous books because it is *ahem* rather large (366 pages to be exact) and consequently production and shipping costs are more. However, it should provide you with a long, lovely, escapist, cozy, and romantic read. Just click here to go and check it out on Amazon.com .
Also, you should be able to share this blog post with the newly-added buttons below. If someone could test drive those for me I would be extremely appreciative!
I received my two paperback proofs for My Grape Year last night, which means I will be able to put the lovely paperback version up for sale on the Amazon website in the next 24 hours.
This also means, however, that there are only 48 hours or less to enter my contest to win a free week at any one of our four Grape Rentals in Burgundy. Here are all the ways you can earn one (or more - lots more!) entries in the "Race Me to La Fin" contest.
There is also an additional way to enter for those of you wonderful people who have already purchased and downloaded (and even read already, for a lot of you!) a digital copy of My Grape Year. Simply post a review of My Grape Year on Amazon to earn yet another entry.
Here is one of my earlier reviews:
I'm going to blog in the upcoming months about our last-minute trip to Burgundy this summer, but let me just say that Burgundy weaves a spell on me and so many of our guests that come and stay in our vacation rentals. There is an authenticity there, a devotion to the art of pleasure, a measuring of the days that takes place in humble rituals such as opening the shutters, buying bread, and going to the market that never fails to fill up my soul.
Also, my web designer has added some cool buttons at the bottom of all my blog posts so you can easily share them on Facebook, Twitter, and all those other fun places. Check them out and let me know if they work!
Sharing Burgundy's magic with others, both through my books and our vacation rentals, is one of the most rewarding parts of my life. Good luck, or should I say bonne chance!
My Grape Year is available, as of this morning, on Amazon's Kindle. Just click here to check it out. There is nothing quite so satisfying as hitting the "publish" button on a new book and this one particularly so. Here are my top five reasons:
1. It is so far the most downright romantic book I have ever written (all about the year Franck and I met).
2. I realized how lucky I was to conduct my first real love affair before the age of emails, texts, and cell phones.
3. I got to revisit the first time I tasted snails.
4. I managed to write this book during a year of serious health shitstorms, including hospitalizations and a full week-long work-up at the Toronto Transplant Clinic to see if I was ready for a liver transplant yet (verdict: not yet - still too healthy).
5. My eighteen year old self taught me all over again that the universe has a plan for all of us and that we all have to fight for our own personal fairy tale.
So, for the meagre sum of $3.99 you can purchase and enjoy My Grape Year for yourself. The paperback will be available on Amazon as well and at local bookstores in approximately 2-3 weeks. I'll be sure to announce that on here.
I wrote My Grape Year with my awesome tribe of readers in my mind and close to my heart. You have supported me, made me laugh, and made me think during the writing and editing of this book. More than anything, I cannot wait to hear what you think.