Prep Notes for France – Three Pre-Travel Revelations

With just about forty days left before I hit the skies for France, the pace of preparation is beginning to pick up.

It’s no mystery that my excitement for this adventure overflows. Hiding my enthusiasm is not a thing I even attempt to muster a capacity to achieve.

Last week, friends offered incredible amounts of wisdom and high-fiving when I opened up on social media about the bits and pieces of this trip which worry me: getting mugged on the RER from CDG to Gare du Nord; leaving my luggage at the hotel before check-in; passport security.

The best advice I received: “Everyone is going to know you are not French anyway. Just don’t look foolish.”

 

imagesI totally concur and would give this advice to anyone coming to Vancouver. I cannot tell you how often I see out-of-towners with their backpacks unzipped, luggage unattended, wallets and Iphones hanging out on the Skytrain and while they are waiting for the bus. It’s like saying, “Here, have my $700 cash and three credit cards. I really wanted to visit the consulate here in Vancouver anyway. My old passport photo sucked and I wanted to pay $250 to rush a new one with the money you just stole from me.”

Now, I can’t help but stop said tourists and let them know of their prone condition before something truly shitty happens to them. I tell myself it is my wee investment in maintaining the “Canadians are the nicest people” reputation. Really, though, it’s a selfish act of karma stacking.

It’s official. I must be traveling soon because  I just had the “Forgot my passport and missed my flight” dream last night.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

I have the same dream in the same dream-dimension airport where I end up in some version of a country I can’t identify near the ocean in the desert every time I go someplace.

It’s like the high school exam dream. Plus, with this one, five people I hardly know decided to come to France with me. That was probably the worst part. 😉

Finally, last night, I discovered les bouquinistes de Paris.

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I suspect the reason my lovely friends did not reveal their existence to me is they knew it would deeply impact my Paris itinerary (and budget).

I now fear and delight that all I will see of the City of Lights is the left bank of the Seine from Pont Marie to Quai Voltaire.

I also will have to make sure I know the location of the closest location of La Poste. There will be a need for packages of written things to be mailed.

 

The Writing Classroom – Summer Reading Story Quilts

It may still be 15C out in the middle of August here in Vancouver (we’ve had what amounts to five days of truly hot weather this season), but the kids are out of school, the pool is open, and we are in full summer mode for a few more weeks.

That also means that my creative writing classes were PACKED (and I mean packed) with young authors who knew they need to keep reading and writing during the long break but also didn’t really want comma worksheets and book summaries.

My secret plan to keep them going was to bribe them with pizza. They received long reading lists and daily writing tasks at the beginning of the term. The pizza at the end of the Summer Reading Challenge Rainbow proved the key to getting them to read more than 100 novels this summer.

The way we kept track of it all was a bit sentimental, a bit creative, and a bit old-school community building.

We made a Summer Reading Story Quilt.

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Over the course of eight weeks, the kids got to make a quilt square every time the read a new book. Around the edges, they had to come up with symbols that stood for the theme, the characters, or a literary device used in the novel. Then, in the middle, they drew their favourite scene and captioned it.

Admittedly, there was a wide range of engagement, but they had fun using their brains in a different way, setting reading goals, and achieving them.

For me, this was also a demonstration of how much can be accomplished by taking learning one step at a time. When we started, the wall looked pretty sorry and everyone wondered if we could ever fill it.

Within a couple of weeks, the quilt started to take shape.

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Kids would pile in to see what others had read. They named their teams in order to identify which squares belonged to them and counted to make sure they were in the race for the pizza at the end.

Yesterday, the final square made it up onto the wall.

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The kids couldn’t believe how much they accomplished and we all marveled at the 100+ books read over the course of the Summer.

Now, time for the celebration!

Young Author Spotlight – Bonnie Xu on Shadows

Good morning. I haven’t posted much writing from my young authors this summer, as we have been heads-down working on the Summer Reading Challenge and discovering literary elements through the close reading of fiction.

However, this piece by Grade 6 young author Bonnie Xu needed to be shared with the world.

In class this week, I asked her to write a story about being someone’s shadow. Her take on it gave us a startling and moving peek into the shadow world.

English is Bonnie’s second language, yet her ability to transform ideas into provocative stories blossoms with every assignment.

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On Being Distracted

So, I sat down fifteen mornings ago with the intent to pen a tome on the reality that I’m about as focused as a light breeze meandering through the desert these days.

I’m exhausted.

My head is spinning.

I’m almost late for everything (on time is late for me).

My patience for crazy is wafer-thin.

I have lists for lists of the lists I haven’t completed because I forgot to make a list.

My mind drifts and lingers in useless places like the social media dark universe and daydreaming.

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Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

I re-opened this draft today and realized the “On Being Distracted” headline proved so valid that I couldn’t even get around to finishing a blog post on the topic.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask myself, beginning the misguided self-talk that leads me deeper and deeper down.

On one side, I am remarkably busy.  My writing coaching business is booming, and I work with students all around the globe almost every day.

I also work with students all around the Lower Mainland almost every day, which means I’m spending a crazy amount of time on public transit. That level of contact with people, in and of itself, is enough to unsettle even the most chill of souls.

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Photo by Hugh Han via Unsplash

There, boom. The coaching part of my life is mapped out and accomplished with only the normal bumps in the dealing-with-other-humans road.

However, in the rest of my writing life, the lack of forward motion proves startling.

I sit down to edit, query or work on the novels – nothing.

I sit down to read (I haven’t read ANYTHING all summer that wasn’t for work) – nothing.

So goes the flow of being, and I recognize it as just that. Sometimes, you can’t squeeze more juice out when one side of your life is at full-speed and requires all of your attention. I will get back to a balance which gives me the time and energy to focus, probably sooner than I think.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like I am failing myself as a novelist.

Where’s the devotion?

Where’s the getting up every day and writing no matter what?

Where’s the “Do whatever it takes” required to make anything of yourself in this world?

I have beaten myself up without end for these times when I am tapped out, and I genuinely believe that I have to figure out how to honour them rather than let them steal pieces of me away.

Meanwhile, I’m still busy berating myself for choosing to finish three seasons of Outlander rather than write, or talk to friends on social media rather than read or research or focus on the craft in personal ways.

I suspect my head is waiting for the novel research trip, which is less than six weeks away. At least I can guarantee a bit of an endpoint for all of this foolish distraction.

 

 

 

Exploring Vancouver – Spanish Banks Bike Routes

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which I live and that I write about here is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

For the last month or so, I have started at least a few mornings a week with 10k worth of walk or bike riding.

It is a Summertime ritual for Vancouverites who know that the rain and darkness will settle in all too soon.

This morning, I rode out to the tip of the UBC Endowment Lands.

On the way back, I stopped at the beach to enjoy the gorgeous light.

There, I received a message . . .

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I am lucky enough to live on the West Side of Vancouver in a gorgeous neighbourhood called Kitsilano, which runs along the waterfront. So, accessing this incredible beachfront trail is pretty much just getting on my wee Schwinn and hitting the road.

I love cycling around town, and believe me when I say I am no athlete.

Vancouver is an absolutely magical city for cyclists, with routes literally from end-to-end, protected lanes, and for all sorts of levels.

The city even has a public bike share system that is used by thousands of people every day.

People visiting or wanting to bike the beachfront, but are not familiar with the route, the City of Vancouver has paper or downloadable Cycling Route maps.

However, I wanted to share a short map of this route from Tatlow Park, which is at the edge of Point Grey Road. Despite the controversy around it, the road is for pedestrians and cyclists only other than traffic from residents along the street, and it is a stunning location to start your ride.

The rest of the route is along the water and very accessible for people of all fitness levels.

The trail is quiet before about 9 a.m., with the occasional jogger or walker to pass. Mid-day and on the weekends, it gets quite busy. However, because Vancouver is so cycling friendly, most people are quite courteous as long as you are courteous to them.  There is the random hot dogger who likes to fly down the path with their headphones and no clue about the rest of humanity. So, keep your wits. Otherwise, enjoy this sweet route and even take a quick ride through the forest in Jericho Park to cool down.

Slow Travel

I’ve been circling around this concept of slow travel a lot lately.

It’s not shocking to anyone who has spent literally even one day with me that I am a bit of a doer. Chilling is not my thing.

I’ve got lists and then lists for the lists.

I survive on accomplishment alone.

It’s my insecurity, I get it.

To do is to have purpose. To chill is to, well . . .

Yet, upon reflection, I’ve begun to understand how my urge to do, do, and then do some more is based almost entirely in the fear that I will somehow be thought of as less, miss out, that I only get one shot at things, and that everyone else is staring at me thinking I’m an idiot unless I am superwoman mounting the to-do list like the queen of everything.

This leads me to France and THIS ARTICLE from Quartzy.com.

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I am taking myself to France in October to, well, chill.

No, do.

No, chill.

No, do.

See, it’s a problem.

I am taking myself to France in October to research The Woman On The Wall. For those of you who don’t know, I’m writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa that is half epistolary love story and half Indiana Jones-style thriller.

I know, in my head, I am going to Paris and Amboise to chill and get to know the places where the novel is set as well as possible in 14 days. I’m not going to play tourist.

Then, the other part of my head goes bananas. I have like a billion to-dos in Paris in my Google Maps. I can do 12 hours a day in the first two days I get off the plane, right?

This article killed all of my need to do Paris (in a good way), giving me permission to just wander through my quick 72 hours there.

Yes, me and La Gioconda are hooking up.

We’ve already texted.

She’s expecting me.

However, I have now basically just thrown my crazy to the wind and decided that everything else in Paris can just happen.

We’ll see how I fare.

Lunch With My Grandparents

When I was a kid, my grandfather would go out to the garden first thing in the morning and come back around noon with an armful of cucumbers and tomatoes.

My grandmother would cut and serve them for lunch. Fresh garden veg is one of my most profound memories of my grandparents.

Today, garden-fresh cukes and tomatoes for lunch.

Just like at my grandparent’s house.

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