Thursday, 27 December 2012

The year's ending on a sour note

I'm feeling sorry for myself. I've just returned from getting a second opinion from a French doctor on what to do about all the shoulder and arm pain I've been experiencing for 4 months. It started in the left shoulder (prone to bouts of frozen shoulder), moved around the top of my back to then include my left shoulder which is normally fine.

 My newish doctor in Epernon said I had to rest it and take anti-inflammatories. After several visits and nothing working I was told to stop playing the violin for 3 weeks. Very unhappy with that, I followed instructions but nothing improved so tonight I went to the village of Coulombs to see my violin teacher's doctor.

I have to give up the violin for now, keep on with anti-inflammatories, have echo and Xrays of both shoulders (at last some action there) and get some physio (first time in France). I must get this resolved but in the meantime I'm upset. I'm upset because I've really put in a big effort to claw back my playing ability and everyone has been so encouraging; my teacher and the Epernon orchestra conductor. In fact, I'd been given the Largo from Winter in Vivaldi's Four Seasons to practice so I could play a solo with the orchestra and there's an audition coming up in February for an orchestra. I've invested money in all this too.

It's all gone now. This comes hard on the heels of having to give up my jazz dancing because of pain. So I'm feeling bereft. I had so many interests in NZ. Many of them aren't possible here (gardening, bellydance, even the cinema is pretty difficult to do in English here). I have no pets (difficult in an apartment and foolish when I don't know how long I can stay here). The interests that were an important part of my life seem to have been ripped away by circumstances and I don't accept things like that easily. What can I find to replace them? I don't want to spend all my life on a computer- I need to move, get out, meet people, do things that make me happy. Alas, they seem to be in the past. Working on my book is still sitting on my bum at the computer- it's not enough to keep me interested. Tap dancing's no good - it doesn't interest me and it's no good with my old feet.

Good grief, how does one reconcile oneself with aging, accidents, loss of what helps make life worthwhile? Nothing's happening in a hurry because it's Christmas holidays so my rehabilitation is likely to take months. So here I am writing about my disappointment and frustration and helplessness. Yes it could be worse, but having given up a lot to be here in France I'm not keen on giving up still more. Note to self: find some other creative outlets somewhere, somehow in case this situation becomes permanent.

I'm not looking forward to explaining the situation to my lovely violin teacher, she's been so positive and looking for ways to help me progress. We played a duet together last week which really spoke to my soul. It was such fun hearing the harmonies and yesterday I practiced to the point where I think I've got the basics sorted... sigh!

The year's ending on a sour note (yes, pun intended). What on earth is ahead for 2013? I don't do New Year resolutions but I'm often thinking about what I can do differently, better. For 2013 I'd like my work situation to improve, to have my contract renewed, keep my apartment and resolve my health issues, and have my book published. OK, better keep working on that.

Monday, 24 December 2012

And a partridge in a pear tree...

It's Christmas Eve in France and it's a quiet one for me. I'm spending Christmas at Jean-Claude's house in the village of Ymeray, Centre, just the two of us, no stress, no expectations. Last weekend we bought a Christmas Tree for me to decorate. The trees in France are quite different. This year we chose a 'Normande'. It's densely branched but quite short and drops its needles in a less obvious way than last year's species.There's no room in my apartment for a tree, alas and anyway, I'm spending a couple of weeks with JC so I can take advantage of space and the tree. I enjoy using the little fibre optic lights as they tangle less and don't have bits that can get lost, break off or break down. [see photo at left]

My Christmas newsletter's out, I phoned my Mother in Christchurch. I think I'm organised.

Last night we drove to Paris to see The Hobbit in 3D 48 frames per second. I was curious about the new frame speed technology and wanted to see the film in VOST (original version with sub-titles) so that meant it had to be Paris. So there I was, wandering the Champs Elysée in weather that was milder than last year, looking forward to seeing some of New Zealand on screen, made by a NZer of a book I've read countless times.

The 3D wasn't as good as Avatar but the frame-rate didn't bother me too much except for annoying technical distractions with some of the fast action. It seems to flutter or the feet of fleeing bunnies or dwarves seemed to be invisible. Annoying.

The detail of the film is exceptional and I didn't mind the length of it but some of the unnecessary additions just interrupted the flow and stretched things out, adding yet more and more fights and battles which got tedious. I love the Tolkien books and the Lord of the Rings films and I'm grateful that Peter Jackson has made Hobbit films but I wish he'd stuck to the original 2 films instead of three. I think I'll buy the DVD in 2D at 24 frames per second. The 3D and 48fps add nothing valuable for me. I must say though that going to see a Kiwi film in the heart of Paris is still an amazing thing to do. The film was well-partonised too. [here's me in my early Christmas present jacket]

It was dark when we emerged from the cinema and the lights along the Champs Elysee were in full glow. The traffic was predictably atrocious. I don't get into Paris often so I asked JC if we could rive along the Seine to see all the lights. Easier said than done from the CE. We had to take the periphique out of the centre and come back in. There's simply nothing to beat the Eiffel Tower in full sparkle. Each hour in the evenings on the hour the thousands of light bulbs go off for a couple of minutes and I hadn't managed to be near it before at the crucial time.

This time we drove along the right bank as the Tour 'went off'. Wonderful, the searchlight turning. the standard lighting picking out the architectural skeleton so well and the sparkles. That was the only highlight. Whether it's a cost-cutting measure or not, I don't know but it was so disappointing that most of the bridges and public buildings were not illuminated. More eco but much less Paris the city of light. Dark, sombre and the beautiful details of the buildings completely obscured by night. Sigh!

French shops do do a good job of decorating themselves, especially with Christmas displays, some of them animated. Next year I'd like to visit Paris at Christmas to wander around the little cabins erected for Christmas vendors at the Big Ferris Wheel at the Place de la Concorde end of the Champs Elysee. There are so many of them, clean, beautifully decorated, food ones too, specialty items, great public lighting decorations.

A few days ago we had our staff Christmas lunch Everyone brought a dish. I contributed an apple tart and delicately flavoured whipped cream I'd made. We all contributed a small gift for a lucky dip. I ended up with a mug- very useful.

Earlier this month I took a train to attend a briefing by the President of the University. It was pretty much as state of the nation presentation. As usual, the 'talking head' sort of delivery. There was a good turnout  to listen to what he had to say. Probably because he had already alluded to financial problems for the university. I sat through two hours of rapid French full of vocab on areas I don't understand.
Consequently I picked up almost nothing other than that the university was developing but the budget from the State wasn't and that there was a shortfall. There were some changes in direction since he recently took office. That a very high percentage of  staff (not admin who are always pretty safe) were on short term contracts and so were at risk (yep, that's always me).
One professor on a contract kept asking questions and wasn't very happy. She tried to raise some valid points but the safe people make the rules so it's pretty difficult to get traction. Like too much in our world, it's all decided by politicians. Top admin at universities are all politicians. They are not altruists. It's just business. I do hope I'm good for business and can get another contract for 2013-2014 but I still don't even have my real titre de sejour. My second temporary one runs out in 6 weeks. Oh well. the holiday break is to get away from all that. I hope I can progress my book proposal while I'm having time out.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Long and Winding Road - Part 1

I'm working on my book proposal. This is an essential document  when trying to interest a publisher.It's time-consuming, makes you think deeply about your book project and is the single most important piece of writing I will do, other than my book itself. There are eight sections to a proposal. It starts with the hook- grabbing the publisher's attention and then moves on to a market overview, overview of the author and what the author will do to promote the book, a competitive analysis and marketing plan must be included, an outline of each chapter of the book, a sample chapter (at least one) and then a summing up.

Over the past year I've thought about what I'll include in this document and I've done a lot of internet research on what makes a good proposal, who and what my competition is. I've considered approaching literary agents (that requires a query letter- works of art in themselves) but that's my plan B. Recently I contacted a publishing company in the UK but they publish your book for a fee i.e the author pays all the costs of publishing it. Sometimes it's called 'vanity publishing' though I don't like that word. I don't have money to do that (thus it's plan C) and I would prefer to go the traditional route. If the book was a success it could then be released in other formats.

Make no mistake, I want to earn money from my book as well from as a second one... but the journey is long and fraught and most authors don't make it. A few days ago I flipped through my manuscript and was horrified to discover I needed to write more. A YEAR HAD GONE BY on other important things and I'd done nothing to progress it. The last time I serious sat down with it I edited out 30,000 words. Turns out I probably need to write at least 10,000 more. That's not too much of a problem because I accumulate more experiences as time goes by but the crafting of a book is much more than just writing the words and organising the chapters.

It's not badly written, I'm a competent writer but am I an author? I looked at what I had written and felt jaded. It didn't seem magical. I'm not objective so I've decided to show my proposal and first three chapters to someone who might give me an honest opinion. Someone who writes and has published in the past. Otherwise I'd need to pay a book editor and I really don't have the resources for that just yet.

I've read a few books in my genre. There are few that are truly inspiring. There are some so bad I can't understand how they ever got published- absolute self-indulgent twaddle. Others are fun and light-weight but don't set anyone on fire nor do they promote thoughtfulness. All the authors in my genre have quite different stories and experiences to me but are mine too gritty, too 'real'? There's no sun-drenched do-up in Provence for me, no renovated chateau, no shacking up with a French boyfriend. My book is more like Big Brother, a reality TV show, a voyeuristic roller-coaster ride.

Self-doubt is natural. So is self-delusion. One thing's for sure, writing the proposal focuses the mind more on what I want, what I can do and, damn it, what makes my book a bit different. While it covers some of the same events as this blog it is definitely not this blog. It chooses its key events, it probes more deeply and delivers up some very personal recollections.

I don't believe it will disappoint my blog readers. In the meantime I'm also thinking about how to market it. Publishers expect authors to do a lot of the effort for themselves these days.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas shopping-it's a bit different

What do you get for the man who has everything he wants? Ah, that age-old problem many of us women suffer from. Why is it men are so hard to buy for? Sometimes it’s because they have more money than women and can therefore afford to buy for themselves what they want throughout the year. Sometimes it’s because they have a limited number of interests. The older men get the more difficult the task of finding a Christmas or birthday present. 

Last weekend Jean-Claude and I travelled to a major commercial centre to find presents for each other. I think I’m easy to buy for, there are so many things I NEED let alone want but JC tends to want to do the shopping WITH me.  Many French men like to go shopping with their women and this is unusual for a Kiwi woman to experience because in my experience Kiwi men hate shopping, even when it’s for them. The cultural priorities might be a clue. 

In France, how things look is very important. Things must be as well presented as possible. People must be as attractive as possible. Therefore the men want their women to look good and they also have opinions on what makes them look good. JC wants me to look young, as young as possible. Aha, I hear you say. I pointed out to JC he’s not young. He may feel young, he may be well-preserved for his age but he is NOT young so why all this pressure on me to look young? It’s getting very hard to look Young now and each day I am constantly reminded that my physical abilities are deteriorating and my limitations expand. There’s a lot of societal pressure put on us to stay young-whatever that is. Oh 60 is the new 40? 
That aside, I do try to look as presentable as I can afford and manage, so the results are modest. JC likes to shop with women in Printemps. This is an upmarket store with big brand names. I usually feel very uncomfortable there because I can’t afford to shop there and it’s torturous looking at stuff that’s nice but way out of my league. It’s also French and I’m still not used to the differences in modes of dress and style. The difference isn’t tangibly huge but it’s there-just out of my ability to describe it. It reminds me that I’m not integrated into that echelon of France. My pay would need to double or triple for that.

So JC starts at Printemps because he’s got a card there and can sometimes get reductions. Fighting my discomfort I gave in and looked about, really looked about in case I could find something of interest. As usual I couldn’t find anything by a cursory look.  JC kept asking questions and doing some looking for me so I had to interact. He has good taste. He likes women dressing to show off their figures and he knows what types of clothes do that with taste. He was useful to learn from and a good moral support.

Me being practical, I didn’t even bother with the bags section. I have a bag. What do I need another one for when I really need oven gloves, a printer, a GPS…. But we were obviously here for womanly things. 
Something warm was one of the things I needed, so we looked at coats and jackets. I still have my 50 euros coat that the French gangster picked out for me and which I paid for back in 2010. It’s warm but picks up every bit of dust and lint and looks disgustingly dirty much of the time.

 JC constantly encouraged me to try things on. This was useful so it got me over my reluctance to try on things I couldn’t afford. I’m not usually comfortable with JC spending much money on me because I can’t reciprocate. I love cool things, expensive things. My eyes and good taste are constantly drawn to them but he’s not made of money and he’s retired so I’m not about to abuse his kindness.
Having explored the whole shop we’d narrowed it down to a jacket. I needed to choose between three of them, all somewhat different. In the end I chose something bold, colourful to brighten the gloomy French winters and also useful for cool spring and autumn days rather than wintery snow. Armani.  JC decided he’d rather I had a month’s use out of it instead of keeping it for Christmas Day so next weekend I’ll model it for him and enjoy the fun and warmth. A true luxury.

We moved on to shopping for him which wasn’t nearly as interesting or satisfying but the deed is done. Laura’s present is on its way to New Zealand, my shopping is complete. There’s just the Christmas newsletter to produce now.

Photos show images of this year's Christmas offerings.