Posted on 05 August 2007


Clare et Jean-Francois Sunday lunch

Today is a little too hot for comfort and still, I drove in the heat, past field after field of grape vines (apparently they are suffering this year) to the small town of Cestayrols to enjoy a meal with friends. (Jean-Francois in the foreground of the first picture was my neighbour many years ago and he is one of the most joyful men I have ever met. And the kindest – though he insists I speak French in France. It’s good for me although I have to simplify all my thoughts and sometimes feel like a child.)

I look happy in the picture. And lunch was a pleasure but as soon as it was over, I returned to feeling anxious, restless, frustrated. And unfortunately, I am unsure of the reason. Or perhaps I’m simplifying things too much and it’s more than one thing that’s bothering me. Last night I tossed and turned and got very little sleep.

I was able to find my last guests a hotel in the next town for the night that they wanted to stay chez moi and thankfully, they did not seem upset. I told them the truth – that this is the only stretch of time I have alone and I need it. Good lesson for me. Makes me wonder why I was in such angst about disappointing them – though 2 women I know said that they would not have had the courage to say no after they had said yes.

I have been working on my novel and lately am so discouraged that I want to throw it in the garbage. I was talking to Susan about it last night, saying something to the effect that the story I want to write has many levels and it’s coming out too simple and worse, I’m using cliches.

She reminded me of three things: 1. This is only my second shitty draft. 2. Cliches can be effective. 3. Writing is hard work. She told me about walking with Lyn, a fellow writer in this town, and saying almost the same thing to Lyn as I had just said to her – that she felt she was simplifying her story too much. And Lyn asked, “Are you a lazy writer?” This helped Susan and, in turn, me. As much as I would like my muse to take my hand and guide the pen, it ain’t going to happen: I have to do the work.

At present, I’m reading “A Dutiful Daughter,” which is a delight partially because it fell into my hands by accident when I was sixteen or seventeen and is the first book that I am aware of that changed my world-view. I read it now from that perspective, trying to understand why it made such a deep impact on me. I am impressed that from an early age, Beauvoir believed in her own intelligence and uniqueness and was willing to defy her parents, or lie to them, to do as she pleased – whether it was reading forbidden books or strolling in the evening with a male companion though at the same time, she tried to keep the peace. I envy her industriousness and her curiosity. She never stopped working – reading and writing – and never felt less or inferior to fellow male students – more often, she felt superior. But what appeals to me the most now – and perhaps did in my youth – that she refused to be stifled or repressed, that she was working toward that moment when she would be free of restrictions of her original home.

In the foreward of my 2005 edition, Hazel Rowley discusses the difficulty Beauvoir had in writing this memoir. She feared the reaction of her family and friends. Sartre encouraged her, “Screw up your courage.” And several weeks before it was to be published, Beauvoir wrote in her journal: “I do feel uneasy – almost remorseful – when I think of all the people I brought into it and who’ll be furious.” (According to Rowley, Beauvoir’s mother was “hurt and mortified” by this telling of the family secrets.)

Sartre and Beauvoir spent a great deal of time discussing their friends, dissecting them, noting their moments of rebelliousness and compliance – “They saw these as defining moments, which reflected fundamental choices.” According to Beauvoir and Sartre, choice necessitates action. (As an example, Rowley says “it is not interesting to want to write a book: you have to actually write one.”

I like this idea of action – have believed in its necessity for a long time. And yet I am often too afraid to act. Sometimes I conquer this fear. At other times, I make excuses for myself. But I’m getting better at it – often with a little help from my friends. (I wonder if Beauvoir would have written her autobiographies without Sartre’s encouragement.)

Enough. I’m tired. Or perhaps it’s the heat.

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