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?

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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.