Colour

Life happens. What a truism. My only excuse for not keeping up with this blog. Joy… Oh well, it sometimes vanishes in thin air, don’t we all know the tune. Yes, but if you care to look for it, it’s painted here and there on the canvas.

I find joy in many things – which is a blessing and a curse at times, as blessings and curses have a way of working, in pairs. I wanted to draw today in preparation for an exhibition I was invited to put up later this year. Of course I got caught up in reorganizing the many papers and stuff where I keep the drawing tools etc. and then I started to look through some architecture books about Romania. There is one in my library about traditional houses in the Danube Delta. I knew about the vivid colours they use there for decoration – but this time I came across a lovely pattern of blues and greens which tell stories of life under a clear sky, close to the water, embraced by leaves.

Enjoy and maybe go visit the area!

(Photos from Stuf: Traditional Houses from the Danube Delta, Igloo 2008)

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The Joy of Writing

There is a Romanian tradition to present children – on their first birthday – with a tray full of things. The saying goes that whichever three things they pick first are the ones which would be guiding them in life, or helping them make a living. Families fill the trays with useful tools, art objects, money, food and jewellery. You’d find a book near a hammer, needle and thread, a little musical instrument maybe, a paintbrush, golden ring, bread, wine… yes, some are tricky.

They told me that when I turned one, I picked a book and a pen. Nobody remembers what was the third object or if indeed I did pick a third. Never mind. The book and pen have shaped my life. It’s true, I like to read and write, I like ideas, I like to teach.

Of the way too many pages I’ve written, lots were filled with sadness and anger, some with funny stuff, much with research which they made me write in a dull academic style. I’ve thrown many of the personal notes away, all that remains with me is the memory of their therapeutic sense. Academia managed to get me so fed up with its nonsensical rules that now I don’t find the will to reshape my dissertation into a book, although academics and profane people alike agree it is quite a good and interesting research. All in due time, I reassure myself lately – which is more than a year ago, when I thought it’s not worth completing this project at all. Let’s say I’m evolving.

Of the books I’ve browsed so far, some novels are certainly worth reading for their beautiful language and ideas; histories have taught me a great deal and helped me make connections between ideas across centuries and subjects; and then there were those which didn’t really tell a story or explained much: journals. Steinhardt’s untranslated Jurnalul Fericirii (which I’d name Counting the Blessings), The Assassin’s Cloak (an anthology of the world’s greatest diarists), and lately, The Journals of Fr Alexander Schmemann.

Penetrated with joy as if joy was a perfume, or a shining light. Simple words about everyday life, about encounters with nature and people and feelings. Good journals inspire not with the craft of sophisticated stories, but with the truth of the mundane, with that essence of life called honesty. When one keeps a journal, there’s no pretenses, no lies, no hidding. A journal forces one out of denial and into the light. A journal is a tool of self-discovery and forgiveness. A journal brings peace to its writer, even if transitory – it also brings joy and communion to the reader lucky enough to peek through the pages ultimately revealed to the eyes of others.

My journal has filled many notebooks, scattered now in the four winds – its pages burned or buried under piles of garbage in the City dumpsters. Some thoughts are here, but for how long? I have a tendency to dispose of stuff, it feels to me like nothing is so important as to remain ‘engraved’. Is it because I don’t think highly enough of myself? Maybe. Does it matter? Truth is, much which I’ve written so far has not been necessarily good or loving or kind. The very fact that I put it on paper though has helped enormously to make me calmer, better and more loving. Lost as they are, those words have managed to bring joy back into my life – and for that, I am grateful to have been given the gift of words to being with. The book and the pen have not been wasted on me, have they?

The Image of Smell

I discovered Pierre Dinand today, quite by chance. Ma prodigue fille parisiene called to ask for suggestions as to where she could spend a couple of hours in the neighborhood of Les Galeries Lafayette (she had strolled through Les Marais all day and it didn’t make much sense to head back to the hotel before meeting her dad back downtown). So, the good efficient secretary that I am, I appealed quickly to Google, maps and all, and said on the phone:

“There is a nice small museum of perfume right near the Opera Garnier, Musee Fragonard. This one is free and they give tours. Looks fun. There is another one called Le Grand Musee du Parfum a little further by that one is 25 euros. Looks more promising.”

“OK, I’ll go to the free one” – she said and asked for the address.

After disconnecting, I continued to browse rather absent-mindedly the Grand Musee website. Under temporary exhibitions, there was one on a certain Pierre Dinand. Never heard, probably someone in the perfume world. Indeed, a designer of perfume bottles, as I found out.

And then I browsed his name and came across his website with a condensed story about his beginnings in the industry. He had spent some time in Asia in his youth combining military service and studying fine arts (??), then came back to France and got hired by a chemical company (???) where he was appalled by some hideous packaging, so he decided to create another packaging – you guessed, it was such a success that later on, he got contacted by a creative agency asking for a design for a perfume bottles for no more no less than Madame Rochas. Another success which opened Dinand the doors to fashion and perfume designers, both literally and figuratively. His life became a chain of anecdotes about this and that famous bottle and I encourage you to read the links I inserted above.

Now, my take on all this:

You can come across very interesting information quite by chance. I didn’t know about these perfume museums and when I’m next in Paris I’ll definitely check them out.

You can use moments in life to your (immense) benefit if you’re open and willing to cooperate and contribute. See my daughter who is now thoroughly enjoying Paris and trusting her mom for instant advice (haha!) At a grander scale, see Monsieur Dinand who probably didn’t plan to become famous on perfume bottles when drinking tea or what-not while digging archeological sites in Cambodia (yep, he did that too).

You can choose to share such gems or dismiss them as maybe-not-so-interesting-to-others. Well, I hope you learned something today. I certainly did.

NO to Paris

6:45 am Phone call before my wake-up time. I glance at the screen, it’s my daughter calling from Paris. I quickly compute: she should be out and about, is she having trouble?

“Hi, sweetie. What’s up?”

Devastated voice at the other end, crying big tears.

“I wanna come hooooome… I don’t want to beeee heeeeere…”

Oh. The fit. First time in Paris and the image doesn’t correspond. She’s been there only two days, it’s been raining, the boutique hotel is not up to her high standards, nothing works the way it should (lovely word!) etc. etc. At 19 years old, she has acted like an entitled brat for some time – Paris is the perfect place to graduate to kindergarten. What are you, 3?

“You can’t come home. You’re in Paris. Make the most of it.”

Silence.

“Have you just woken up?”

“No, I woke up really early and I was out walking for two hours, but it’s cold and people are rude and I don’t wanna be here. I’m sorry I woke you up…”

She didn’t want to take warmer clothes and the good fancy jacket is hanging in our closet at home. Oh well. Mom’s usually wrong, right?

“Baby, it’s OK. Come on, it’s gonna be good. You know what you can do? Go get something nice to eat, a croissant and a coffee, then head to the Lafayette Department Store. It’s beautiful, smells good, it’s inside, so you won’t be cold. And then you can stroll through the covered passages, they’re nearby – Panoramas, Jouffroy… Perfect for a day like this.”

“Oooo..key…”

Galeries La Fayette 2 (Large).jpg

I spent a few more minutes of encouragement, then went back to bed to cuddle a few more minutes with my younger one before actually getting up for the day. I stifled the thoughts of worrying needlessly for my little teenager and I found myself laughing at how God puts us in quite amusing situations to guide us back into reality-check. Of course, it’s amusing for Him and others noticing it from the outside. It’s not exactly amusing on the inside. It feels stupid and annoying on the inside.

As I write this, I’m having my coffee before starting my day and week. Outside, it’s colder yet sunnier than in Paris, and there’s nothing particularly exciting in my weekly plan, just daily life in a rather boring Canadian city. My coffee is warm and I got kisses and hugs from my other two kids before they left for school earlier. The feeling still lingers – it’s very, very nice to be loved. Yes, I could have been in Paris with my husband now if I hadn’t chosen to give our daughter the opportunity to accompany her dad to see Ville Lumiere. Am I sorry having given up my place to someone who doesn’t even appreciate it? No. She’s that part of recalcitrant me who needs to learn one or two things about how changing viewpoints has an impact on the whole perspective. I can draw in perspective and I know how viewpoints work – but man, did I have to practice it literally and figuratively to actually get it! She’s gonna get it too. We all can, if we want to try.

I have faith in her. She’s gonna come back from Paris with a new appreciation of things. And if she doesn’t get that, well, that just means she’s in for a longer ride. It’s gonna take more Parises, more rains, more love, more trials. How many times do we say NO to things before we say yes? People who care for us would try their best to make us feel better, but it really is up to us to truly feel better.

Hey, guess what – she just wrote to me to say she’s heading out. Can’t wait to hear how she enjoyed it. Now, how good are you going to make your life today? Find your Paris, let me know.

 

Enough

What a funny little word, isn’t it? A word that expands into a whole universe of stars and black holes. Especially dark ones.

You’ve had enough to drink. She doesn’t know when enough is enough. There isn’t enough money to do this. Love isn’t enough.

Or in disguise: You can never be too kind. Never say never. You could do this better. Can you stop? (please)

It started with the day I came back from getting the results to a difficult exam. Back in those days, in the country I grew up in, compulsory public education finished with grade 10: that meant kids had to take an exam to prove their worth right in the middle of high-school. Ridiculous, if you asked me then – and I still think so. One had to pass a couple of entry exams to go to high-school anyway, and there would be another series at the end of it to get the “baccalaureat” (very much in the French tradition). That middle-exam series only added extra pressure and, in truth, it was one of the mechanisms which the communist regime used to ensure people didn’t have much time for free thinking (’cause they would start getting ideas that the system was not quite right, right?) There were two such exams scheduled at the end of grade 10, and they were specific to the program of the respective high-school (some schools focused on sciences, other on languages, or arts, or medicine… very regimented to being with). At my school, I had to do a math exam and a physics exam. My grandfather was a well-known tutor of math who gave excellent instruction to countless kids grade 5-12. I was his only (and quite favourite) granddaughter. I owe him every bit of math that I know – and I know a lot! Throughout the year, we’d had our lessons in a group and all of us were doing well.

The exams were difficult, as they usually were at that stage. Only 60 would be able to promote to grade 11 – those who didn’t… well, they’d have to get a job (which was almost impossible without connections) and try again next time, and ONLY for evening classes. I was good at physics though not excelling: still, I got a 7.5 or so (out of 10). The math exam, I had taken extra care with: not only I was confident I did everything well, but I provided a double way of solving some of the exercises, and my writing was organized and truly impeccable. I was not surprised to see I got a full 10. Altogether, my over 8 average mark pushed me into the successful candidates. I was proud of myself and for no small reason.

So, big smile on my lips, I went to my grandfather and I announced my victory. He looked at me and said: Daniela did better. (Daniela was another student from our math lesson group) I said: what? What do you mean? He said: Daniela got over 9 average. I said: that’s irrelevant. Daniela is not in the same high-school; and by the way, how much did Daniela got in math? 9.4, he said. Well, I got a 10 in math AND I made it to grade 11 – shouldn’t this be enough for you?

He never answered that question. The smile faded from my lips gradually, my self-confidence stood fighting. In two years time, I would flunk the very difficult entry exam for the Architecture School: not the preliminary drawing exams (in spite of my Dad telling me I can’t draw well enough), but the geometry exam – my best subject. Both Dad and Granddad told me openly they were ashamed with me. I waited another year, tried again: guess what, I flunked the drawing. And then I did something they thought was crazy. I registered for the entry exam of the Math course at the University. Those were the hardest math exams ever. Dad and Granddad felt funnily proud I’d choose that, but they didn’t get me at all. I couldn’t care less if I made it into that program, I didn’t want to be a math teacher, just wanted to see if I could get a passing mark: and I did. I got over 5 average for math international Olympics questions. Right that moment, I knew I would pass the entry exam for the architecture school the following year.

Long story short, I finished architecture school and went on to Cambridge for my Masters degree. My grandfather had died in the meanwhile, but my father was secretly delighted. After immigrating to Canada later on, I spent another seven years over a doctorate only to see my academic teaching dream dripping like sand through my fingers as I sat down to write my thesis: at 40, I had become pregnant with my third child. I gave birth to the child and raised her along with my other two teenagers, while crying my head off and writing the doctorate. I was made to feel a not good-enough mother for crying over such a pathetic career meltdown. PhD under my belt, I accepted to teach drawing and geometry to college students who wouldn’t come to class and who wouldn’t do their homework, despite my best efforts to engage them. I was sacked when I refused to pass those students.

Nothing I’ve done was considered enough. They planted this idea in my head at a time when I was young, happy and confident. They did not celebrate my successes. They made me feel little and insignificant. They told me it’s my fault for this and this and this. I had to take the blame, whether it was my owning or theirs. They trapped me in this funny game and, ever so slowly, I became “they”. My self-confidence was nowhere in sight. I started to tell myself my dreams don’t matter; what use is to try this, I don’t know enough to make it work; I started to feel guilty when thinking of celebrating me simply because some of them thought that’s selfish. When I came to the full realization of this, I was (might I dare say, rightfully) angry. My love turned to hate. I wanted them gone, out of my life, but some just wouldn’t disappear. It was as if invisible murky threads made them cling to me, and I was trying in vain to clip and cut and push aside. Nightmarish, really.

Eventually, I took on a minimum wage job as an assistant in a Kumon centre where the enthusiastic and actually lovely owner would gently prevent me to teach – I was there only to welcome students and to grade their papers, not to instruct them: that was her job. I felt not good enough. Everything was pointing to giving up, so I willingly gave up that job too. “The kids will miss you…”

Days came and went, as I tried to fight my returning depression. Something very deep inside, in the dark hole of my guts, said you’re not a total quitter. Luckily, I had learned to notice the colours around me, the light, the music, and every now and then a ding of a text from good friends asking how I am. “You’re the best mom in the entire world, I can’t stop loving you!!!” And those diplomas on the wall in our home-office… tacky, I know. I have a more than patient editor at a famous university press waiting for me to finish the manuscript of a book from my thesis. Why would I do it when there’s no academic career at the end of it? Or is it… could it be? Does it matter.

And one day… I understood. Out of the blue. That happy, confident girl is still alive in me – maybe not kicking much, as she’s felt down lately… well, for about 30 years, on and off. She is not that young, but man, does she have some other good stuff up her sleeve. She’s used her time well. She has accomplished many things just by forging on. She’s raised three great kids, she’s taught some others, she’s cooked a few good meals, she’s been a friend. She has a good group of “they” who love her truly. When she wants to, she’s fantastic! It really isn’t all the work of her dear magic wand…

OK, enough with this! Did you get the message?

Act Now

Procrastination is a sign of depression. The more I come across such instances (examples in my life included), the more convinced I am this is so. When you’re enthusiastic about something and you have the energy to do it, you just go do it – right? From reading a book to cook a good meal to develop a business plan, you can’t wait to get it started. Procrastination is a constant delay of an action which you could start right away – but you don’t, for no clear reason why not. The reason is you don’t feel motivated enough.

Both “motivated” and “enough” describe the state pretty accurately – or rather their opposites: un-motivated and not enough.

For instance, I have a few projects in mind now, some of which are already started, some which I could start develop right away. I don’t work on either. It’s mainly because all presuppose that I trust myself to do it and/or I can see a point which excites me to complete them. Re-write some parts to finish the book manuscript from my PhD thesis. I would do that to get an academic position or to promote a small tourism business I’ve been thinking about. Otherwise, it’s not worth going into the trouble of revising a manuscript. I have come to not like or trust the academia, do getting a job in its midst doesn’t provide the motivation. To start the tourism business, the main problem is I don’t trust myself to make it successful. Thing is I listened too closely to a few (close enough) people who subtly discouraged me: do you think it’s gonna work? What if you don’t have enough customers? How are you gonna battle the big sharks, the other tourist agencies? There have been others who encouraged me too: go for it! That’s a great idea. You’d be so good at this.

Who to trust? But maybe not even that is the right question. In the past, every time I planned to succeed in an endeavour, I had to fight the naysayers. I ended up doing that thing just to prove them I can do it, all along trying to keep true to my desire of doing it. The fight had exhausted me to the point of giving up the sweetness of victory, each and every time – and the result was useless for me. I passed the exams to go to architectural school but I did not practice architecture. I finished the doctorate, but I am not teaching in the academia. I immigrated to Canada but I’ve been unhappy ever since I set foot in Ottawa. I have a beautiful family who I fight with every day although I truly don’t want to.

I am very tired, that’s why I procrastinate. The only little joy I’ve found lately was in making little projects for dear friends – but, dear as they are, they didn’t even make the time to meet and pick up their gifts. That’s very discouraging. It’s like being abandoned by friends of the last resort.

The joy would then be found in doing little things for myself. Finish that summer jacket I’m knitting for me. Make some drawings to put up an exhibition just for fun. Put together a little business plan for those tours even if I don’t make money out of it. Do a better job at promoting the sewing course which I started two weeks ago. Enjoy the moments and to hell with those who don’t see a palpable worthy result. These are worthy for my sanity.

And now I’m gonna go skating. ‘Cause it’s nice outside.