FALLING IN LOVE WITH FRANCE (AGAIN)

I have been an awful blogger of late.  I have been busy, busy, busy, teaching at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference (and loving all she has to offer), and then coming to La Rochelle, France to visit some of the high schools that have been studying my work in their English classes.  28576086_10157092624520828_1955686642658778005_n

What follows is a bit written for my Facebook, after the final life altering day of engagements in France.

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Me in my flat in La Rochelle, provided for me by the incredible Centre Intermondes.  This is the central work of art.  I will confess to being somewhat startled the first morning I woke up, jet lagged and confused, to see this gigantic gun pointed at me.  (It follows you wherever you go.)

This INCREDIBLE film of my visit to Lycee Valin in La Rochelle, France yesterday left me in tears. It was created by Isabelle Menon, the head teacher there and (I’m quite sure) a dear friend of mine for the rest of my life (along with K’rine, Catherine, and Valerie, who made me feel so very welcome and loved). I have to be honest. I don’t wear much makeup anymore, or do my hair. I thought yesterday morning about putting on a little extra makeup, maybe running a comb through my hair a second time, and then, I thought, “Nah, it’s not like I’m going to be filmed or anything.” Ha! Boy, was I wrong. But it doesn’t matter, because this film captures the magic and the love that were in the room yesterday as I spoke to these beautiful human beings. And that makes it more gorgeous than any lipstick ever could. Thank you, Isa. From my the core of my sparkly little bones.


Another thought. I was scared when I came to France. The students here had been studying my books, and were excited to meet me. I was also slotted to sit in for a translation joust of my work and speak on a panel with two very successful poets, which left me in knots. I wasn’t sure what to share in the speaking engagements. I am intimidated by Europeans because they are way more educated than most Americans, definitely more than I am. They speak multiple languages fluently and know everything about everything (or at least it seems so to me), and I’m always afraid I look like a stupid American to them, with my one fluent language and my smattering of French and Spanish words and my weird caches of esoteric knowledge with huge gaping holes in obvious places.

But on the way here, I remembered something Judyth Hill said to me last month as we were walking together to the airport shuttle that was going to take both of us to teach at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference. She said, “We think have to be so perfect when we speak, we think we have to do something special, when all people really want from us is us. We just need to go there and be what we are.” This is how I usually plan for speaking engagements in the U.S., but I was somewhat worried it wouldn’t work in France. Still, there was no way I was going to pull off learning three languages during a ten hour flight, nor was I going to come up with a snazzy juggling routine, so when Judyth’s words came back to me, I decided to open my heart to these beautiful people who were waiting to meet me, to tell them the truth about myself.

I put together a slide show of my childhood on my New Mexico mountain, my beautiful hippie-preacher parents, my wonderful brother. I told them about my daddy’s death and my travels and my triumphs and my heartbreaks and my years following a rock band. I told them what inspired me and what scared me and who loved me and who hated me. I told them about all the people that mocked me, how hard it was to keep believing in my dreams when, after 20 years of trying, no one thought they could come true.

I couldn’t believe the responses I got. I was overwhelmed with love and grace and beauty everywhere I went. In some of the schools, the hallways were decorated with gorgeous portraits the students had painted of me and translations of my biography into French.
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Videos of me performing excerpts from my novels were being broadcast on television.  The breathtaking song, “Not Alright By Me” which was graciously gifted to me for my website by the incredible members of Vintage Trouble (thank you for making that happen, my dear friend, brilliant drummer and extraordinary writer, Richard Danielson, and also for the exquisite bottle of wine you had delivered to me at the outset of my journey!) was blaring through the hallways.  (There were many new Vintage Trouble fans recruited during this trip!)

When I spoke of my daddy’s death, I always looked out into the audience to see eyes filled with tears. These people were with me. Afterward, the students always hugged me and told me their life stories and hopes and dreams. The teachers opened their hearts and homes to me. I met and was welcomed into the home of Olivier Lebleu, a beautiful, brilliant translator who asked for permission to translate my books into French. (My answer was a great, big American, “Hell, yeah!”) His wonderful boyfriend, Ian, who happens to be a Scottish chef, made me one of the best meals I have ever eaten.

Aymen Hacen and Nazim Richard Dikbas, the two mind-blowing poets who spoke on a panel with me both were WAY smarter than I was, but didn’t seem to care. They were so loving. Both brought me gifts and made me feel utterly welcomed.
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Me and Aymen Hacen, with the beautiful necklace he brought me from Tunisia (his country), sharing an unforgettable meal with the poetry panel participants and hosts.  (The BEST oysters I have ever had!)

And now, I have to leave a place that has etched a great big valley for itself in my dumb American heart. I will never forget my time here with these precious people. People don’t really want to see how smart we are. They don’t want to see how talented we are. They want us to open our hearts. They want us to see THEM. They want us to be real and true, even if what we are is really, truly dumb Americans. I can’t tell you how many times I threw open my arms and said, “Let me give you a big American hug.” And never once did anyone do anything but fall into my arms.

P.S. And lest anyone think I’m all hearts and rainbows, yesterday, one of the people in the audience asked me what I would say to the people who mocked me and tortured me as I was following my dreams. I told them I would love to say I’d be classy, but I’d probably just be petty and play this song for them. I tried and failed to describe it. (I wasn’t about to sing it.) If you’re reading along, audience members, this is the song.

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