French Friday: My Étonnant Native Country

One of my best friends, a picture book author, is happy as a clam when she talks to 100 kindergartners. I know of other authors, who adore huge assemblies.

I’m a small group person. Big parties and large venues have never been my thing. Concerts are an exception. Still, I’d rather see my favorite bands or singers in a small club than a stadium.

In the next few weeks, I will meet with more than 400 middle school and high school students. I just found out that their teachers decided to separate them in smaller groups. So I will have one presentation at the middle school and four at two different high schools on the same day. Phew, what a relief.

What worries me now is the fact that for the first time ever I will meet students who take French at school. This should comfort me since anything French is my thing, right? In fact, as I am preparing my presentation, I keep questioning its content.

Usually I split my one-hour power point presention in four parts:

* My French background shown through slides from my hometown and surroundings.

* The process of writing, from the choice of topic to the editing. I also include elements about writing in a non-native language.

* Multiple-choice questions based on my novel, which is shared in class prior to my visit.

* Q&A is always my favorite part, so I allow 10 minutes.

But as I am now selecting my slides, I am caught in a spiral of thoughts:

How do I introduce contemporary France to teenagers who learn how to speak France but have not necessary been there yet?

What should I tell them about my native land? How honest do I want to be?

Is it okay to show its flaws? Will it discourage young people to visit?

In my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines I introduced the early immigration issues that took place in the France of my childhood in the 1970s. Almost fifty years later, France is still dealing with immigration issues.

Do I want to show the gathering of migrants at Porte de la Chapelle, still happening after the regular dismantling of the camps and despite the opening of welcome centers, too small to accomodate everyone?

But there is also genuine concern for the migrants’ situation. French people want to exemplify the motto Liberté Égalité Fraternité.

So what about Calais?

Now shouldn’t I stay with a classic vision of France, particularly of Paris, with its lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques? Is cliché versus authentic okay?

After all, there are still lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques in Paris. They sit blocks away from the gathered migrants and within an hour from the projects in the suburbs.

In my Young Adult thriller Trapped in Paris, the two protagonists find themselves in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, less than ten miles away and yet another world.

What about music? Music plays a huge role in any teen’s life.

Once in a while, when I’m in a store or a café in the U.S. I hear French music. Almost always it’s soft French music. Often Edith Piaf singing La Vie en Rose or even Charles Trenet and La Mer. But Carla Bruni is now a favorite, as well as Serge Gainsbourg and Zaz.

It is said that when French-style music is played in a store, the atmosphere shifts from ordinary to sophisticated. In fact, some storeowners are known to play French music or French music-style when they have French items, such as wine or cheese, to sell. Shoppers don’t even notice but are still influenced.

Many contemporary French singers such as Julien Doré still exemply the unique French poetic musical style.

But what about hip-hop bands or rappers who use music as a media to address racism, poverty, immigration, unemployment, topics of concern for many French people?

Now I scroll down my own playlist and wonder about the older Manu Chao. The singer started his musical career a few years before I left France but really took off in the mid 1990s. With his mix of reggae, ska, with clear Latino roots he changed the traditional French musical scene.

Now what about the diverse French rap scene, a mix of rap de rue or street rap, conscious rap, popular rap, and other sub genres in between?

Should I add the hip-hop band Nèg Marrons? After all they wrote one of my favorite songs about their parents.

As I prepare my presentation and debate pros versus cons the complexity of my native land is palpable.

So for now only one thing is sure: the choice of the T-shirt I will wear.
























Dr. Seuss’s Day

“You already have permission

Just saying.

You have permission to create, to speak up, and stand up.

You have permission to be generous, to fail, and to be vulnerable.

You have permission to own your words, to matter and to help.

No need to wait.”

Seth Godin

Most of Seth Godin’s posts are so relevant to creative people that I am often tempted to forward them to every writer I know.

I find this post from a few days ago particularly relevant to my day, here in my little corner of California.

My favorite line is about the generosity, the failure, and the vulnerability.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to visit a local elementary/ middle school to help them celebrate Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, also Read Across America Day.

The generosity came 100% from the school that invited me. Yet they insisted I was generous with my time. How nice is that?

The failure: I could miss what I wanted to share with the children yet I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad.

The vulnerability: I feared the moment where I would be alone on stage, facing 500 kids.

I am just back from school and my short presentation, oriented around seven quotes from Dr. Seuss, which I applied to the writing process and my novel Trapped in Paris, was a moment of joy.

Thanks to the amazing gift children have to live the moment, everything fell into place as soon as the first slide of my power point presentation appeared on the screen. The students were curious, open-minded, eager, and generous with their questions, clapping and cheering.

I didn’t fail. Even though I had prepared notes to go with my presentation, I realized that I was so familiar with my topic and the audience so responsive that it was much better to just forget about notes and just go bare.

It is more challenging than using a teleprompter, but honestly? Our politicians would touch us so much more if they left their speeches at home.

It is worth the risk. I asked questions I hadn’t planned to ask. Encouraged by the enthusiasm, I went beyond what I had prepared and kids stayed behind to talk to me afterwards.

I was vulnerable. Who wouldn’t be in a packed auditorium, filled with young people?dr.seussquote

My mouth was dry. I didn’t forget my notes but my bottle of water. So unlike me!

My heart was like a bird flapping its wings inside me. I’d rather climb Half Dome, I thought.

And yet, the smiles and laughter, the comments and compliments  (yes, there were some!) were worth every second of doubt and fright.

Anxiety was necessary when I was getting my stuff ready.

But in the end, I was left with anticipation for a future event.

And a craving for a big bottle of water.

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