Monday, 20 April 2015

Hormonal resonance

I really love my husband – but I don’t talk about these things, much less write them. After 20 years, sharing this, would it embarrass him? Does it embarrass me to write it out loud? Others in these kinds of marriages will know what I’m talking about. We hold hands at the movies and while falling asleep at night. Why is it embarrassing to admit so much love? Though friends have remarked upon the quality of happiness of in our household, like it’s an extraordinary event, or something not often encountered in family life. Love stories, and marriages, can be so very much otherwise. Like love lived through rupture and continuing heartache (a not-love), not finding the one to love (a not-finding), or stories of being alone by choice or circumstance. 

I love him better as the years go by. How can this be? No one ever ‘told’ me that love and marriage can be like this. That it can be sweeter over time, that the erotic can have a sustaining charge. This is not to say we haven’t had trials, oh no, we have our trials. And we’re not particularly romantic, or the kind of lovers who put their locks onto that Paris bridge. Such a confident romantic gesture. The matter of our marriage took its time, questioning the institution as we did. Yet being together as a couple continues. I want to be around him, to be in his presence. I breath his smell and vitality like oxygen. To sink my nose into his neck each day is one of the divine pleasures of my life. We have hormonal resonance.

I used to relish short breaks from the intensity of my young family. Breaks given through my various studies, conferences, or research projects (at the time, always San Francisco). I no longer feel this way. Now I don’t want to leave home. Right now, I ache with the absence of my family. And I feel a texture of raw longing for my partner, my husband. Being away from him for these five weeks is the longest in our 20 years. It’s painful in a physical way, but it gives me a view. I’ve been with this guy for 20 years, and I’m still secretly, madly, in love with him.

There is fear of the ‘evil eye’ in admitting my true love. If I say it out loud, will I loose it? There is always a cost to love, the price of its potential loss (unspoken). You don’t want to say it, because maybe it’s not really that good. Or you’ll admit something is good, and then not live up to it afterwards, after-words.

A friend was recently and shockingly widowed by the sudden death of her husband, her soul mate. His absence opens a gapping wound she can barely live with. Maybe it’s important to admit that such love is possible, what it’s like, even if we can be devastated in its loss. There are so many clichés on this – to love anyway, and all that. But in real life, it’s actually much deeper then any cliché. Long-term love has been a cornerstone of my own life so far. I am told that one must life-write not only of trauma, but of the good things in life, of pleasure and happiness too.

I think it, or should I say feel, that our happy household is the extension of our love, and holding the space in this for our girls. In Hinduism, they say husband and wife should literally worship each other as god and goddess. This may seem a bit over-the-top from a Western view, but I get it. As in: say nice things to each other. Don’t back-talk your mate to others. Do things for him/her that make them happy. I experience this from my husband. In his actions, his doing, he demonstrates his love.

I’m not talking about the whole co-dependent thing that my mom read, worried, and warned me about during my childhood/teenage years. My mother’s love life was filled with strife and her rumination on the topic of love (or not-love). The theme of rumination on failing love can become a favoured habit. There is a lot to talk about when love goes wrong, but what to say when it’s right? My mom and her boyfriends lived in lover/enemy dyads. In this view, relationships are ultimately traps, and we are replaying the traumas of our childhood and family dynamics. We may certainly carry our family and social histories, but how to pass (not pass) them?

I witnessed my grandparents’ life-long (till death did they part) relationships. Though these seemed, at that feminist moment, to be more about the social duty of marriage. On my mother’s side, a settled co-existence between grandparents, but also an undercurrent of resentment and verbalized upheld regrets. I noticed my paternal grandparents cultivated an earnest kind of love in their togetherness. And my father re-married long-term, happily so, to my stepmom. Yet as a child, experiencing years of an acrimonious parental divorce, I had no idea that long-term love can about inter-dependency, safety, enjoyment of and with the other. Maybe I wished it were so, or deeply desired to love in such a way, with this kernel of potential. 

When my youngest daughter was a little baby, I went to a soothsayer. She was an astrologer recommended by a friend whose birth I had midwifed. At the time, my husband and I had about 2-years under our belts. We were stressed as new parents, and had been fighting (in bad ways). We had had some significant challenges at the start of our love, ones that left me with mixed emotions, and tested us. My mind wandered to co-parenting as a non-couple (I cringe on writing this now). I suppose that thought was born of experience with my parents’ divorce. Also, at the time, many young couples /families around us were breaking-up after their children’s births. It was like I had no other ‘go-to’ thought for resolving difficulties. I did not voice this. At heart I did not wish it to be. I was in love with this man. The soothsayer looked at my chart, and she firmly told me (not knowing my thoughts) that I must not leave him. He was in the other room caring for our baby – an actually apt activity for him, who has been so admired, by other women especially, for his involvement in such things (and his good looks).

“You must be together, it’s very important for you. To live in a life-long partnership, to learn to trust another, it’s very important. You will see, after many years you two will experience the quality of your love with more and more depth. You will draw strength from this. Others will admire your partnership, and remark on it. This is of great benefit, not only to you both, but for others in your lives.”

Oh wise woman, whose voice I carried in my head through difficulty. It comes true. As it is, so may it be. A lived inter-dependency of the sweetest kind. One that asks us to love and trust in each other every day, building these qualities into every act between us. Body, speech, and mind.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Artful Paris

Paris is truly art-ful, as in: full of art.

Unbelievable, formidable. Even when I see it, it’s hard for me to take it all in, such local movements of historical and modern European art. Which I studied in my undergraduate textbooks of art. I let it all absorb, a feature of my research here in situ, in Paris, being the wonders and education of this place itself. Everywhere the actual artifacts are on view, like walking into Brancusi’s atelier yesterday. A small museum next to the Pompidou Museum houses a collection of Brancusi’s sculptures. All set up to his exact(ing) specifications, as if in his actual studio of the day. His forms are smooth, organically curving, rounding without edge. An oblong head lies sideways on a wooden block, Cycladic in appearance, the eyes are unreadable and serene, the nose a clean, long line. Behind this, form after form rests in the studio, on the floor or atop piers in a precision of space, as if grown from nature itself, or the human expression of such.

Last weekend I went to visit La Musée de la Mode, in the sumptuous building and grounds of the Palais Galliera. The exhibition was of the fashion/textile designer Jeanne Lanvin. I became completely absorbed in the details of her extraordinary art and craft. Her dresses, the clean cut lines of the 1920s, and 30s. Her velvet blue, and endless hand-made details in embroidery and beading of dresses. We need these dresses now! They float and flow, and look comfortable to wear draped upon the body. Lanvin’s motto/logo is an image of mother and daughter. Phrases from maternal life made their way into her fashion pages, like, “have you finished your home work?” and, “you’re going to fast maman!” Her daughter an enduring feature of her life, a motivation and inspiration for work and art.

In my state of wandering Paris, these art-full viewings impress upon me like an oracle. I am con-currently immersed in this theme of art and mother-lines. Working on a paper that juxtaposes Cixous’ artful mother texts (in particular “Eve escapes” 2011), with my own mother texts. I work autophotographically to make series of photographs “at home,” about home, and on visits to my mother’s home. Also on a maternal theme, a whole corpus of Cixous’ recent books are devoted to the figure of her mother, who lived a long-life of over 100 years. Her books portray the daughter-writer who is constantly (in both serious and comedic ways) pulled between the presence of the beloved mother, with whom she lives and cares in proximity, and the needs of her art in writing. The impending and unimaginable (dreaded) death of her mother, and the call of Writing itself, are always on her mind, as she writes about writing and thinks and dreams in the presence of writing (and Mother). Cixous, in the writer’s voice, is always bridging this impossible gap of life and art. Mother and art keep arriving together in text, an exquisite evocation of living art and artful living, with life left alive on the page. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Bon courage

Bon courage – what a beautiful thing to say.
We don’t say this in English, wishing another well in overcoming difficulties, like: “Good courage!”  

Reading a blog interview by Sion Dayson of writer Jessica Levine (both Americans living in Paris), Levine describes what it takes to live the creative life, and to have become a novelist as she did in her 50s. Her list is topped by qualities of confidence and courage:

“Creativity requires qualities—self-confidence, courage, spontaneity—as well as conditions—time, financial ease, mentorship or positive role models—that are not always available. It took me many years to overcome the destructive inner critic…”

This applies to being an artist. What does it take to be successful in art? Success meaning not only having the courage to make your art, but having the qualities and conditions to publically exhibit and continue the practice, day-by-day, to even earn your living from this. Currently, with SSHRC fellowship support, I have the conditions. My stumbling block right now is exhibiting my visual artwork. Production has not been a problem for me. I have the work, ‘to make’ is a matter of my being. I could put my lack of exhibitions down to pre-occupation in other areas, like writing, parenting, and my involvement in collective artistic practices, but I’m aware that it’s not just that.

Three years ago I was here in Paris, on a preliminary trip for this research. I found a good place to stay, but I couldn’t explore much. I was here, here. But so physically and emotionally fragile it’s a wonder I even got on the plane to France (my youthful habit of being the adventurer kicked in?). I became very ill on finishing my PhD, and whether due to my fragility, or provoking it further, I was battling/greeting the worst of my mother’s monsters. The ones she had always offered me, the ones she wanted me to take, maybe to relieve her own burdens or to create more, who knows? I knew on an intellectual level that they weren’t mine, but emotionally, experientially, another process was at work. I had been coded, marked, through repeated exposures. I had to let them pass, each horrendous one, in a process of separation.

All my life, my mother’s monsters dogged my path, along with my fear of these engulfing me. I had been singular in staking out my own identity. But I felt, and was repeatedly reminded by my mother, of the sharp edges of family traps and traumas. Traps and traumas can become transformative fuel for art. For Cixous, it is the wound itself that writes. On my previous trip to Paris, I was completely heartbroken, with even physical pain in my chest. Were my mother’s monsters family inheritances, hers alone, or the works of mental illness? A mix of all and more. They had finally caught up with me in a visceral way. I was facing each one, acknowledging the depth of the wound in order to pass through the gates (I'm getting an image from Harry Potter here, all those death-eaters coming at you - it’s a good analogy). And the gates were very real. I had to pass through large wrought iron ones each time I entered or exited the grounds of my Paris abode. Weaving my body through these entrances/exits each day, the metaphor was not lost on me. Some of the gates were not passable, being always locked. The gates became an extended meditation on both my own condition and the work of Cixous, whose gates in writing life are most always open. She passes through. 

In a kind of poetic justice, I was beginning this “work” in Paris. Though armed with remedies, medications, and meditations, I could hardly go out the door. My life at that time was one of surrender without choice, and a practice of ‘extreme’ self-gentleness in tending to the wound. Though I felt the reality of death, this was an equally painful birth-giving process. It was June, and rained almost every day. In my disability, marked by pain, fatigue and anxiety, all I could do was get groceries, barely – step by step. I carefully walked the parkland of my surroundings in the Paris rain. The highlights were getting to see my friend and her new baby, snuggled onto her chest. We walked around the park as she recounted and I listened to her Paris home birth story. An intense and beautiful birth (they are all intense - and beautiful, a doorway for the force of love and life to come through). And then a hemorrhage, saved at home by the midwife - step by step. The birth story, my favourite genre. 

The other highlight, I attended a daylong seminar on Cixous’ book “Partie” (1976) - departing, leaving from, arriving to (in the feminine). I was in just such a state of feminine arrivals and departures. The language of eggs and regenerative birthings in her text hovered about, my destiny as unclear as it ever could be. To return now, again, is a gift, a new mark, a code for birth in being.

And so “courage.” Yes, courage. Bon courage!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Paris in the springtime

I have returned. And it’s all true what they say about Paris in the springtime. Paris is gorgeous right now – warm, sunny spring days. It’s alive! The chairs are out at all the cafés. People and tourists are out in droves. Les bouquinistes on the Seine have re-opened shop! I am re-entering the dream, walking back into this story, and the weather sure is nice. All this mind-emptying into the Seine has put me into some kind of Paris-bliss state. I am unlikely to get much work done like this. What project is this again?

It’s been a bit long (for me) since I last posted – I meant to write about “transformative writing” via “Adult Learning and la Recherche Féminine: Reading Resilience and Hélène Cixous” by Elizabeth Chapman Hoult (2012). A recent book related to Cixous and methodology, Hoult gleans into my own thoughts and experience. She explains a lot of the things I am interested in about Cixous as inspirer / inspiriter of off-grid writing methodologies.

Will catch up soon. Tomorrow it’s time to attend the Cixousian seminaire again.