Fiction Versus Reality

My phone buzzed in my jeans’ pocket as I drove to my son’s high school. In a glance I recognized the number and picked up. In California we can’t phone and drive, and I respect the law. But no mother can ignore a call from her kid’s school, right?

“Did you get my first call?” asked the school receptionist. “About the sailing team?”

My heart slammed in my chest.

“Everybody is fine,” she went on. “But one of the boats capsized.”

My son and ten other kids from his school have been sailing since last week on a lake located forty minutes away from town.

Today was a gorgeous spring day, but the wind was exceptionally strong. The idea that this kind of wind was perfect for a California wildfire had crossed my mind several times throughout the day. But I hadn’t thought of a sailboat incident.

“Was my son on the boat?” I asked. “Is he okay? Are the kids okay?”

“Oh, yes, all of them are fine. But they are delayed. They should be back in two hours.”

“Thanks for your call.”

I drove to a nearby café. British people are right: a cup of hot tea is a must after a fright.

The café was quiet now that the university students have graduated. While I cupped my mug, envisioning my son drenched and freezing, his friends in the same situation, time trickled and all kind of thoughts went through my mind. Maybe someone was wounded. You can get hurt when a boat capsizes. I dialed my son. No answer. Should I go pick him up? Although I am familiar with the lake the marina is a mile away from shore and its access is through a keyed code that I don’t have. Keep calm, everything is fine. I swallowed another sip of tea and got my phone. My hand met a paperback in my purse. I had forgotten about the book I purchased at the book fair last week.

An eight grade girl recommended me The Raft and her suggestion was confirmed by the woman in charge of the fair. The Raft had been selling like freshly baked croissants for the last two days.

The book had been in my purse since I bought it. On the cover, a young girl lies on top of a basic rescue raft, which bobs on the endless surface of the ocean. Above the girl, the sky stretches as immense as the ocean.

I shivered despite the warm afternoon sun. How strange to have for only companion a book titled The Raft on the day my son and his sailing class have capsized on a fairly large lake.

So this is with a cup of green tea and The Raft that I waited for the sailors’ return.

The story of fifteen-year-old Robie, the main character of the novel, had the potential for a horrific ending. Robie has taken the flight between Honolulu and the Midway Atoll– a group of Pacific islands where she lives with her marine biologists parents – countless times. But one day, after a visit to her aunt, Robie has to get to Midway in a hurry and boards the cargo flight at the last minute. So quickly that her name isn’t on the manifest, something she will only find out later. An unexpected storm hits during the flight, and the engine cuts out. Max, the copilot, then urges Robie to put on a life jacket and then to get on a raft before the plane crashes. When Robie realizes what has happened she is in the middle of the ocean, alone with unconscious Max, who will eventually die. Robie is the only survivor of the accident and will spend twelve days alone on the raft before being rescued.

With one protagonist and very few dialogues, the novel could have been boring, but S.A. Bodeen has managed to write a story packed with realistic action and strong emotional feelings. Brief chapters, well-paced suspense, and cliffhangers kept me on the edge as I followed Robie along her journey. Teens – especially girls – will identify with this typical contemporary teen who has lived, until the plane crash, a sheltered life surrounded by caring parents, and yet will find the strength to live when confronted to exceptional events. Max’s story adds to the mystery of the novel and to Robie’s personal growth. Marine animals – beautiful scenes with albatross and seals – play also important roles in this quiet novel that I was finishing when my phone rang.

“I’m fine,” my son told me. “But we have work to do with the boat. It’s filled with water. Give me another hour.”

Unlike Robbie’s parents I knew where my son was. After reading The Raft I also knew that a lot can happen in an hour, so, unable to wait any longer, I drove to the lake. When I finally theraftpicked up my son he was a masculine version of Robbie, drained and bruised.

However The Capsized Sailboat was a pale story compared to The Raft.

And I was relieved that fiction had won over reality.

P.S. Although I’m not an eight grader, I highly recommend The Raft.

The Truth Benefits of Book Fairs

“Write about what you know,” says one writer.

“Oh, no, write only about what you don’t know,” argues another one.

“Never read anything related to the topic or the genre of the story you are writing,” says one writer. “Or you will end up writing a copycat.”

“Au contraire,” another one insists, “it will stimulate inspiration.”

“Go indie,” one writer says, swearing it’s the only way to publish now days.

“Don’t ignore the fabulous job agents can do for you,” affirms another one.

Confused? Me too.

Honestly, there are so many yes and as many no’s, so many do’s and as many don’ts for us, writers at large, that sometimes I feel like not even trying to try anymore.

For the last few months, I have taken a deep breath and have ignored almost everything about writing and selling writing, only focusing on my own stuff, new and old, plotting and revising.

It felt good to be free, away from so many rules, which too often contradict each other.

Here are three discoveries I made:

1- Writing about what you know or don’t know is as difficult.

2- Reading books similar to what you write is a good thing. The stories we end up writing are the ones we like to read. Why reading stories we don’t like? There is already so little time. And why writing stories we don’t like? It’s already hard enough. It’s like food. Eating what we hate would be a terrible useless punishment.

3- But the most important discovery? Regardless of the topic, of the way the work is published: The Reader.

Sounds obvious and yet among the writers I know – including me – it is common to forget that our focus should remain on our readers. In the race to publication – again I have been part of it – we want to please agents and editors more than the most important people at the end of the chain, again the readers.

Last week, my book and me were invited to attend a school family night/ice cream social at a book fair.

For a writer in training, a book fair is a place that stirs many feelings. It is hard to control and suppress the nasty pang of envy at the sight of so many books shelved and stacked. Ah the bestsellers! Oh the well-known authors! The beloved names that children and teens pronounce as if they were celebrities and also their best friends. Really, a book fair could be the last place to rekindle confidence.

And yet, it could also be the best place to meet – in person – the most important people for children’s literature writers.

Let’s face it: as much as most of us love bookstores, chances are that adults more than their children visit them. Parents, of course, matter a lot since they remain the money providers for many years. And they are willing to spend hard-earned dollars on a book written by a familiar or favorite author. But if you are neither one, a book fair where you welcome potential readers and – even better – readers who already have read your book, is a great place.

The only reason a book fair organized in a school is a fantastic opportunity for an unknown writer is simple: children and teens listen to their peers.

The opinion of a girl or a boy who has read your book will have much more impact than any other advertisement and promotion trick. Even more than your own presentation.

When my kids were still in elementary and middle school I ran many book fairs. I liked to enroll children and teens to talk about a book they liked. Every book they picked became an instant bestseller at the fair.

The odds to convince a boy or a girl to open your book and browse through a few chapters, are much higher at a book fair and the experience will often lead to a sale.

The added bonusbook fair: children and teens are much more tolerant than adults. They don’t care about do’s and don’ts, about landing an agent, finding a publisher, or going indie versus traditional publishing.

As long as they like your story, you are an author.

They even ask for a picture with you. How sweet is that?

Academia Regalia à l’Américaine

Maintenant que les graduations sont passées – un peu lourd de traduire par “cérémonies de fin de cycle dans les universités américaines” – voici un petit post pour tous ceux qui ne comprennent pas très bien le décorum de ces fameuses graduations.

Ne vous en faites pas. Je n’en savais pas beaucoup plus jusqu’à la semaine dernière. Intriguée par les longues robes et les étoles de velours colorées, portées par les professeurs de ma fille, j’ai du penser si fort que l’université de Berkeley a ajouté une page spéciale à son programme 2013.

Cette page intitulée Academia Regalia me permettra de réviser pour mes deux plus jeunes enfants et de cesser de comparer ces cérémonies à une scène tirée d’Harry Potter.

A cause de l’héritage anglais, les robes et chapeaux carrés noirs (portés par les étudiants) ainsi que les robes et les étoles plus élaborées portées par les professeurs sont en usage depuis l’époque coloniale dans les universités aux Etats Unis. Ce grand tralala a été standardisé aux alentours de 1895. Cela reste très formel et renforce la confusion en ce qui concerne le dress code américain. Trop peu habillé ou pas assez le définit souvent pour la française que je suis encore dans ces cas là.

Mais revenons aux étoles qui vont du rose au bleu foncé en passant par le violet et le blanc.

La discipline étudiée est indiquée par la couleur du velours de la capuche (partie passée sous le menton) des détenteurs d’un master ou d’un doctorat.

Blanc symbolise les arts, lettres et humanités. Bleu ciel l’éducation. Orange l’école d’ingénieurs. Or les sciences de l’environnement. Violet le droit. Vert la médecine. Bleu foncé la philosophie. Rose saumon la santé publique. Jaune d’or les sciences. Rose vif la psychologie.

Le degré obtenu et non la discipline étudiée régît la couleur de la doublure du velours. Par exemple, un diplômé d’un master de science portera le jaune d’or mais un diplômé d’un master des arts avec un major en sciences portera du blanc. Un docteur en philosophie, peu importe la discipline étudiée, portera du bleu foncé à cause du degré obtenu.

Toujours un peu compliqué ?

Pour moi aussi. Mais je dois dire que ces costumes ajoutent une touche officielle, et c’est alors l’émotion garantie pour les parents remplis de fierté.

Pour tous ceux qui assistent à la cérémonie, y compris les profs et les élèves, il y a ensuite les félicitations post cérémonie.

On y retrouve les « Great job!  You did it!  I’m so proud of you! »  tous ces petits mots d’encouragement inconditionnel qui me surprenaient tant sur les terrains de jeux américains quand je suis arrivée et qui illustrent si bien l’éducation et la vie à l’américaine.

Les félicitations c’est aussi un moment privilégié pour croiser les profs de vos enfants. Occasion bien plus rare que lorsqu’ils étaient à l’école élémentaire, au collège et au lycée quand les parents américains sont si impliqués.

Après les graduations le calme se pose sur les campus américains.

En attendant l’arrivée des étudiants étrangers qui ne sauraient tarder.

The Old Man and the Commencement

“Is someone sitting next to you?” the voice was polite, proud, and elegant at the same time.

Many people had passed me without a word and the voice jolted me. I looked up from my book.

Although he leaned over a cane, the elderly man carried his frail stature with grace and self-respect. It was only 8:00 a.m. and the sun was still asleep behind the tall pine trees that surround the Greek Theatre, a stone away from the Berkeley Campus. A cool wind blew from the bay, shimmery in the distance, and women and men alike hugged their light jackets closer to their bodies. But the old man in his summer suit and straw hat didn’t seem to mind the early hour and the brisk air.

“No,” I said. “I’m alone.”

“Then,” he said. “I’ll sit next to you.”

I returned to my book while the old man took his seat. This is when I noticed his white cane and his black sunglasses. Soon a middle-aged woman arrived and sat right in front of him. I understood that she was his daughter. She stretched a blanket across the row of seats, and my heart sank at the thought that I was alone to congratulate my child on her graduation day. Her father and her siblings had been there on Berkeley Commencement Day, but on a weekday none of them could attend her graduation from the biology department, and so it had been decided that I would represent our family and come alone. While most students would have several family members present my daughter would only have me. More people – an assortment of ages – joined the old man and his daughter.

As if I had shared my thoughts with him, he asked me, “Is it your daughter or your son who graduates today?”

I had exchanged exactly three words with him, and yet he had rightly guessed that I had a child attending the college.

“My daughter,” I said. “What about you?”

“My grand-daughter. I have ten grandchildren,” he explained. “She is the ninth to graduate from college.” Again his voice carried an equal mix of politeness, pride, and style.

Soon the Greek Theatre filled with families and friends. Music welcomed the professors, clad in their strange-looking robes, and then the undergraduates. I searched for my daughter and spotted her in her black gown and cap, the tassel swaying as she walked to her seat. She caught my eye and waved. After the commencement address and a few speeches, the 500 girls and boys stepped on stage to be acknowledged by their professors.

I was once more reminded of the absence of family when the cheering and hand clapping overcame the professors’ voice when they called the students by their names. A pang of sadness tugged at me. My daughter had friends among the students, but there was no way my voice and bravo could match the enthusiastic crowd.

“What is your daughter’s name?” the old man whispered.

I told him, and he gave me the name of his granddaughter. His daughter turned and smiled.

“She’s fortunate to have such a large family to support her,” I said. And in a daring move, I added, “Can I hire you?”

She smiled a curious smile, but the old man said, “Of course, we will cheer for your daughter.”

“Thank you,” I said.

And this is how fifteen people I had never met before added their cheers to mine when my daughter stepped on stage. I heard the old man’s voice, distinct and clear when he shouted, “Bravo!”

The air was balmy now that we were approaching noon. Caps flew in the air. Parents, friends, and professors gathered around the boys and girls who seemed to float above ground. Words of congratulations filled the Theatre and similar messages crowded people’s phones. A smile was drawn on every face.

Later when I rejoined my daughter in the street, she said, “I knew I had friends at school, but I couldn’t believe how loud they were when I was called on stage.” She glanced at me. “Did you do something?” she asked, tilting her capped head. She knows me pretty well, I must add.

“Oh,” I said. “There was an old man who came for his granddaughter. His entire family was there, too. So we made a deal. They clapped for you. I clapped for her.”

“That was nice,” my daughter said. “Really. Thank you, maman.”

And I realized that in the commotion that followed the closing message, the old man had slipped away before I got a chance to thank him properly.

I came alone, still berkeleybiologya foreigner in this sea of foreign customs and rites, but I left my daughter as if we belonged to a large warm family.

The Irrelevance of Possessions

The devastation and loss of an entire neighborhood in Oklahoma City is unimaginable.

The death of so many children is heart wrecking.

Blogging yesterday morning about wildfire in my neck of the woods seems trivial this morning.

Yes, our dear possessions – books included – matter. They are important to us because of their emotional relationship to a special person or a moment in life.

But this morning? Irrelevant.

When Emergency Strikes

If you were stranded alone on a deserted island what would you like to have with you?

A book, of course, the reader thinks, shaking her head in disbelief. What a question!

But when a wildfire threatens the reader’s neighborhood, are books the only valuables to be saved?

Over the fifteen years I’ve spent in California, from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sierra, countless wildfires have destroyed entire areas. None had ever threatened my neighborhood.

But yesterday afternoon as the Cal Fire air tankers and helicopters hovered above the golden hills where my family lives, so close to my home that I almost caught the pilots’ faces, I thought my family would be required to evacuate.

Are books really the most precious to save? I kept wondering as I walked through our home, dragging suitcases and bags behind me.

Of course I wanted to take everything, from souvenirs to a piece of favorite furniture and even potted plants.

What do you pack if you have to evacuate your home and aren’t sure to find it safe and sound when you return?

Your photo albums and picture frames? Your daughter’s first spelling bee award or your son’s drum set? Your wedding dress or your favorite pair of boots? What about the silverware that comes from your grandmother? Or the artwork in your living room? And the ceramic plate with the handprint of each of your kids for Mother’s Day, should you leave it behind and instead pack your vinyl records?

But I kept returning to our books, which are present in every room. Shelved or stacked, read or in line to be read, how could I leave them behind?

What book is more important?

A collection of poems by Apollinaire or the first picture book your daughter read for the first time alone? What about the book about sharks that your son tucked in bed with him when he was six years old?

The folk tales book read aloud with each of the children when they were two years old or the American Heritage Dictionary?

The latest Pulitzer or Goncourt?

The complete oeuvre of Victor Hugo in the French Bibliothèque de la Pléiade?

A novel from Stephen King or Dan Brown because they are always much thicker than any other novel and would keep anyone good company?

What about the books offered for birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations? Or the out-of print books? The rare editions?

What book deserves to be saved from a wildfire?

In the end I wondered if I shouldn’t just leave them all. Why play favorites?

I looked for my Kindle, which I’ve never mistaken for my library and only use when I travel, and considered buying through Amazon the most beloved books I would not be able to pack. But we had lost power.

When I had prepared a change of clothes for all of us, toothpaste and the like of them, I boxed the picture frames and photo albums while my husband packed our preferred artwork.

The sky buzzed with the sound of air tankers and helicopters. Smoke spiraled in our backyard. Gusting winds blew through the canyon.

In a sudden impulse I threw in a big bag the books stacked on my night table, plus two children books – my kids’ favorites – and a guide to publishers, editors and literary agents – a friend’s loan.

The phone rang.

“We’ve got electricity!” my son yelled, jumping to his phone to update his friends.

I took a deep breath.

Unlike one family living down our street we haven’t lost our home and weren’t required to evacuate.

Firefighters worked all night long to secure the area. It was a close call and a chilling reminder that anything can spark a fire in California.

We live ephemeral lives and surround ourselves with objects that are much more than mere material acquisitions.

When emergency strikes, every one of them reminds us of our lives on this beautiful earth and choosing amongst them is very hard.

When it comes to books? Even harder.

 

La Promesse de Berkeley

berkeleyberkeley2Un beau symbole de post fête des mères que de voir sa fille terminer ses quatre premières années d’étude à Berkeley.

La dernière expérience américaine qui manquait à ma collection scolaire, commencée dès la première rentrée à l’école de ma fille ainée, était la college graduation.

Impossible à traduire en français puisque l’équivalent n’existe pas, cette cérémonie est sans doute la plus américaine parmi tous les évènements liés à la vie scolaire – et Dieu sait s’il y en a.

Berkeley symbolise à la fois le succès de l’éducation publique aux U.S.A et particulièrement en Californie. La plus ancienne des universités du système University of California, Berkeley est aussi la plus réputée. Son histoire académique est étroitement mêlée à l’histoire socio économique et culturelle de la région que nous appelons ici East Bay (de l’autre côté du Bay Bridge, en face de San Francisco). En passant par les mouvements de libération des femmes aux luttes raciales et des droits de l’homme en général, les manifestations contre la guerre du Vietnam et plus récemment Occupy Wall Street, tout changement important aux U.S. est passé par Berkeley.

Le campus de l’université illustre ce riche et turbulent passé. Un parfum de rébellion – un peu embourgeoisé, pour rassurer le passant – et d’innovation flotte sur le campus et dans les rues avoisinantes – de hasch aussi, même si cela n’arrive pas à la cheville de Santa Cruz, la capitale californienne du farniente et de la fumette.

Une graduation à l’américaine ou the commencement suit un protocole dont les américains, si libres et inventifs dans leur façon de vivre, sont paradoxalement très friants.

L’université de Berkeley a refait récemment son stade, et la cérémonie – 3 500 étudiants de la classe 2013, plus leurs familles et amis – s’est tenue au stade entre 10 heures et midi.

Dès 8 heures du matin les élèves se rendaient seuls, à deux ou en bande dans les coulisses pour se préparer pendant que les invités se pressaient aux grilles pour accéder aux gradins.

Mes deux plus jeunes enfants, mon mari et moi sommes entrés tôt dans le stade et avons pu nous installer dans les premiers rangs qui font face au terrain de football.

3 500 chaises étaient disposées sur une estrade temporaire et les étudiants sont entrés comme dans une arène au son de la musique jouée par l’orchestre de l’université.

C’est facile de devenir blasé aux Etats Unis. Mais voir sa fille défiler avec les garçons et les filles qui, comme elle, ont été admis à Berkeley quatre ans plus tôt, ne peut qu’amener une larme à l’œil.

Les immigrés, plus que n’importe quel parent, connaissent le prix de l’assimilation, et ce jour là, plus qu’aucun autre, la réussite de leur enfant est aussi la leur.

Si nous restons d’éternels outsiders nous avons tout fait pour que nos enfants nés sur cette terre soient 100% américains.

Musique, défilés, ballons, l’hymne national – superbement interprété live par une jeune étudiante – et les discours : rien ne manquait hier sur le stade de Berkeley.

En commençant par le président de l’université, le président du bureau des élèves et les anciens élèves, les discours se sont succédés, avec plus ou moins d’émotion dépendant du speaker.

Le plus attendu était Steve Wozniak, le Co fondateur d’Apple. Ancien élève de Berkeley il était le keynote speaker et sa prestation a été suffisamment humoristique pour maintenir les tribunes en éveil.

Pour mon mari et moi sa présence était symbolique. Il y a 22 ans, l’une de mes premières virées en voiture a été le long du Steven Creeks Boulevard à Cupertino, au cœur de la Silicon Valley, où les bureaux de Apple étaient déjà mythiques. J’attendais mon deuxième enfant.

De la voir défiler dans sa longue robe noire, avec ce chapeau noir indescriptible sur la tête, en écoutant Steve Wozniak je me disais que la boucle était décidément bouclée.

Writing New

One of the hardest tasks for a writer – at least for me – is to write new.

If I’m not careful, I find myself in the company of my darlings without any desire to kill them. And even when I think I pay attention, they still pay me insidious visits.

I thought I had found a good way to avoid the common trap: writing different genres for different age groups.

But regardless of this deliberate choice, a librarian, a cop, a French character, a teacher, an immigrant tends to poke her or his nose through my stories.

Besides characters, vocabulary plays tricks on me. Everyone has favorites, but with words I’ve got to be vigilant. In one of my manuscripts, now ready for submission, my latest reader noticed that I had used the verb “morph” four times throughout the 260 pages.

Four times doesn’t look so bad in comparison to so many other words that, of course, I used many more times. Yet my friend had a valid point. I used “morph” too often, although the verb has several synonyms, which would have worked as well.

After the “morph” episode, I was on the lookout. Not only for my work but also for my critique group members’ writing pieces. Sure enough I noticed that each of them played also favorites with the dictionary.

Even the only one who writes in free verse and is the most demanding – her goal is to tell/show more with less words – gave preferred treatment to a few beloved words.

More than laziness – which I would never use to describe writers’ behavior – our word choice represents us, not only as writers but also as individuals.

While I realized that I was using “morph” one too many times in my manuscript, I also realized that the writing I was doing then about my immigration journey was a morphing experience. I had after all morphed from the 100% French I used to be to the almost 100% American I became.

I’m no shrink, but beyond the theme of our stories, beyond the setting we pick, the characters we develop, the style we chose, and the voice we search for – that last one is the hardest to find, isn’t it? – the words we use, and sometimes favor without noticing, tell a lot about who we are.

When I was learning English, I used to copy words that I met while reading in a notebook: unknown words, of course, that I would later translate with my dictionary, but also words that I liked, either for their meaning, their sound – even pronounced by me, they still sounded beautiful – or their spelling.

I abandoned my notebook when I became more proficient.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have.

So I just added a summer challenge to my already long to-do list: on top of trying my best to create and keep up with an intriguing plot, likeable characters, vivid scenes, and meaningful dialogues for a young adult novel I am drafting, I will also return to my notebook.

It’s a lesson in humility. The more advanced writer knows how to vary her vocabulary, the work-in-progress writer doesn’t (yet).

But, as always, there is a silver lining.  Hunting for words = reading lots of books.

notebook

 

 

Books Are Much More Than Stories

Do you prefer a book or its adaptation on the big screen?

Guaranteed discussion that splits readers and movie goers.

Avid readers almost always favor the book to the movie.

I am one of them.

To the exception of a few books: Catch me if You Can – much more entertaining as a movie, in my opinion – or Argo – for the same reason, but Argo doesn’t count since I am a Ben Affleck die hard fan.

Seriously, most books are almost always much better than their screen version.

Even children’s books? Especially children’s books.

Although we do know who wrote Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games, mega literary successes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries turned into equally mega movie successes, we don’t often mention the authors’ names when we speak of these books and movies.

For Judy Blume and her books it is the other way around.

Hated by bigots and adored by everyone else, Judy Blume slashed the path to Laurie Hasle Anderson and her generation of fellow writers who chose to write about teens’ angst and issues related to adolescence.

Later, followed Sara Zarr, John Green, Jay Asher and many others.

But Judy Blume is undisputedly the writer who started it all. Her distinct voice when she wrote for teens was born with titles such as Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret or Blubber or Tiger Eyes.

In fact, Tiger Eyes, one of her best sellers, will hit the screens on June 7th.

Among Judy Blume’s fans I’m sure the news sparks the question: will the movie be as good as the book?

Tiger Eyes was very modern when it was published in 1981. In her inimitable voice, Judy Blume wrote about death, sex, love, racism, and what it means to be a teenager.

But 1981, to teenagers who are 16 or 17 in 2013, like my son and his friends, is vintage in the best-case scenario, and usually plain ancient and even prehistoric.

Will a movie, based on a book, set in the early 80s, have the potential to attract our kids – even Judy Blume’s fans – used to Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games, movies larger than life?

In all honesty, the kids are a pretext. The real reason, behind my mixed feelings when I read about Tiger Eyes turned into a movie, istigereyes selfish.

Some books and some writers, I think, remain more special than others, only because of who we were when we read them.

There are the books we read when we were very young and didn’t always understand. These books were better than parents and teachers. They let us err and fill in the blanks at our own pace.

Then there are the books we shared with best friends, first boyfriend or girlfriend, lovers, partners, husbands and wives. These books belong to our youth and their titles evocate in an instant these emotionally charged years.

And much later there are the books we read to our children and the books our children love so much that we need to read them as well.

All these books are much more than stories.

I want to remember them with the pictures they brought to my mind and the magical moments they accompanied.

I don’t know if I want to see how Davey/Tiger looks like or if I want to hear how Wolf talks.

So this is why, although I wish success to the movie, I’m not sure that I want to see Tiger Eyes other than through my imagination and my memory.

To Believe in Possibility, Conquest, Renewal

The pearly petals splash against the luscious green of the leaves.

Who cannot believe in possibilities when the Pacific dogwoods are in full bloom?

The crystal-clear mist quenches the hikers’ thirst and lifts their spirit.

Who cannot believe in conquest when the waterfalls dogwoodfallyosemiteskyburst from the snowmelt?

The clouds swell in a sky as deep and blue as the eyes of a newborn.

Who cannot believe in renewal when the heavens are within reach?

I never craved rituals before leaving my native France. My homeland, cradle of my childhood, was filled with traditions and customs where I organically belonged. But, far from my familiar, living alternatively on both coasts of the United States, the need for roots called for rituals.

I never considered the importance of geography when I lived in France. Growing up in Normandy and then living in Paris, my territory was effortlessly etched in my life.

Similar to the slow, and yet necessary acquisition of English as my new language, I found important to visit, understand, and adopt the traditions and geography of my new land so that one day, they could also be mine.

Adopting the customs was the easiest part, especially with my children who had little knowledge of my culture. Discovering the American holidays, celebrations and traditions through their schooling was much more fun than learning on my own.

Fitting in a landscape so different from my accustomed terrain took me more time.

This is why, not unlike during my first year in Paris, I started to walk a lot.

I walked through the cities and towns, through the forests and along the beaches, wherever my family lived, exploring and getting lost, discovering and liking, fitting in or disliking, always remembering of all places.

I left my footprints, a step at a time, as a testimony to my belonging.

When I traded cities and suburbs for mountains and foothills, I swapped walks for hikes.

And although the terrain and the weather had never been more foreign to me, were rarely pleasing at first sight and were sometimes hostile, I instinctively knew that trekking the switchbacks would lead me somewhere. Year after year, I extended my territory. My hikes, strenuous or leisurely, have offered me much more than blisters and views. One by one, as I checked them off from my to-do list, I had made them mine and I belonged to them.

I will never tame nature in the way I adopted streets and neighborhoods, forest trails and beaches, and this is why I return, at each change of season, to Yosemite.

To attest the presence of the dogwoods, of the waterfalls, and of the sky, so I can believe once more in possibilities, conquest, and renewal.

So I can face a clean screen or a white page and look forward to telling more of my story.

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