Where has she been? Turns out I have a stellar answer...
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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).
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.
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.
In honour of Bastille Day tomorrow here is a little excerpt from the VERY soon-to-be-published My Grape Year. If you could like to race me to the finish of this latest instalment in my "Grape" series, just enter my contest to win a free week at the Grape Rental of your choice in Burgundy.
This excerpt comes near the end of the book, when Franck and I spent the entire night dancing at the 14th of July balls in Paris the day before I had to fly back to Canada.
A few hours later, Franck and I were nestled in a brasserie in the Sixth arrondissement. We just finished a dinner of a goat cheese salad, steak frites, and fromage blanc. This was all washed down with a strong house red, which made me teeter between joy and sadness every few seconds.
He reached over and checked my watch. “The balls will be starting.”
We paid up and stepped out into the Parisian evening. Every cell in my body rejoiced at how I was actually living this moment – French cars whipping by honking at each other, the warmth of Franck’s arm around my shoulder, the muggy air of Paris in the early summer, the whistle of firecrackers being set off by kids in adjacent streets, the jingle of a few francs in my pocket…
Better yet, I understood everything that was happening around me – every expletive yelled by the pedestrian who had just been cut off by a mobilette roaring around the corner, the chatter of lovers chatting at a café table we passed, the waiter taking an order…this was an entirely new life I was living and it hadn’t, in the grand scheme of things, taken that long to create.
Franck led us along several dimly lit back streets.
“How do you always know where you’re going?” I asked. “You never even look at a map.”
“I walked a lot when I lived here,” he said. “Kilometres and kilometres every day. There was always a new adventure waiting.”
We could hear the noise of the fire hall several blocks before we arrived. The street echoed with the sounds of laughter and loud accordion music.
People were spilling out of the courtyard of a large stone building. Strung across the courtyard in a half-hazard fashion were strings of multi-colored lights. A wine stand was set up at the rear of the courtyard and its menu was simple; a glass of red or white for the price of ten francs.
People were already dancing, young and old, chic and bohemian. Franck ordered us each a glass of wine served in plastic goblets. We sipped as we watched the festivities erupting around us. The night was warm, and tiny stars began to light up the sky like sparks. I put my empty glass back down on the table and Franck followed suit. He swept me into the middle of the dancers and we lost ourselves in the accordion music. He spun me around and around until the revellers surrounding us became a blur and I felt like a small part of a much greater whole. Nobody in the crowd hung back on the sidelines. If they had no one to dance with, they danced anyway, and were soon swept up into the frenzy of celebration.
We humans need this, I thought. We need to let go of the routine of our everyday lives and just celebrate the mere fact of being alive. The French were awfully gifted at that.
Soon Franck took my hand, and led me out of the writhing mass of dancers. We walked for about ten minutes, laughing and enjoying the site of the fellow revellers out in the streets before we ducked into the next fire station for another glass of wine and into the whirlpool of another celebration.
The night stretched out from fire station to fire station, from neighborhood to neighborhood.
At about five o’clock in the morning, the sky began to pale, to welcome a new day. The day I dreaded since I met Franck. The day I had to leave him.
“I know a brasserie not too far from here that is open all night,” Franck said. “Should we go and rest our feet?” Mine were throbbing from all the dancing, so I agreed.
In the brasserie we huddled together on the leather seat. I inspected my blisters, which were impressive, both of us agreed, and we snuggled as we waited for our order of two large café au lait with croissants and jam.
The chime of a church bell rang six times.
“That was the bell at Nôtre-Dame,” Franck said.
Normally I would have loved that fact, but it only drove home that my time left with Franck was no longer measured in days, but in hours and minutes.
“You’ve gone quiet,” Franck observed.