Sunday, June 26, 2022

Writing Reunion After Covid

 A History of the Geneva Writers Group and Me


It was the first in-person workshop of the Geneva Writer's Group (GWG) since before Covid.

The founder and long-time leader (retired) Susan Tiberghien  gave a workshop, the first in a few years.

It was 1993 when I first heard of the GWG and Susan. I had finished my first much-rejected first novel and was working on my second. 

I went to the Paris Writers workshop run by Canadian writer Isabel Huggins.

I told her I wasn't sure I should continue writing. I knew no other writers. When people learned I was writing, I would get questions like, "How much do you earn an hour?" "I suppose it is a harmless hobby?" said with a raised tone. These questions, and others of the same ilk, illustrated how out-of-sync I was with my co-workers and acquaintances.

Isabel told me about Susan.

Once a month, the GWG held workshops at the Cafe du Soleil, a ten-minute walk from my house. Mornings, we learned  our craft: showing not telling, developing character, maintaining tension and more. After lunch we critiqued our work. The criticisms were mostly fair yet serious enough that I knew when I needed to rewrite, when to leave things alone. 

I've heard some writing groups are vicious. This one wasn't. The goal was to help each of us be the best we could be.

We also learned about writers magazines from different Anglo countries, marketing opportunities and conferences. I learned of a low-residency writers masters at the University of Glamorgan in Wales. I applied and earned the degree that allowed me to teach a few courses in creative writing at the college level. I would never have learned of these things without the GWG.

Trying to write in a country where your mother tongue is secondary or almost non existent has its own problems.

An English writers conference was held in Zurich and many of us went. The next year it was Basel. Then Geneva took a turn. We brought in accomplished Anglo writers from several countries. well over 100 people came and the atmosphere was electric. The conference brought us together in a spirit of sharing.

I never missed the GWG monthly sessions. It was food to a hungry woman, drink to a thirsty one. For at least two weeks after a workshop, my writing came more easily despite a heavy work schedule. 

As the group grew we moved to a nearby church than the Geneva Press Club. The room where we met had two giant mirrors opposite each other with a huge chandelier hanging from the middle of the ceiling. The light was reflected and re-reflected in the mirrors to infinity, a welcome symbol of what I hoped my words would do. 

Finally we ended up at the Webster University before Covid struck.

Every two years, the GWG produced a literary magazine, Offshoots.

Another gift of the GWG was finding a writing mate, Sylvia Petter, an Australian living in France, married to an Austrian. She worked across the street from me in Geneva. For years and even sometimes to this day, we went over each other's work. Sometimes, we'd cross the street to share a coffee and a critique. 

We were harsh when we had to be, and praised when deserved sometimes with the threat, "don't you dare change that." Probing, manipulating words, paragraphs and ideas improved both our writings. We cheered each other on and rallied each other when discouraged. Once, we went for champagne, when we both received encouraging rejections.

GWG became more formal. I served on one of the first boards. We started master classes bringing in successful writers to supplement Susan's monthly workshops. The writers were playwrights, non-fiction writers, poets, short story writers and novelists. 

Agents were invited to look at our writing. More and more of us were published in magazines, anthologies, novels. Some had our plays produced, if not on Broadway, at local theaters.

I won a national award for an unpublished novel: Chickpea Lover: Not a Cookbook. The rejections kept coming, over 40, before a publisher said yes. The first person I called was Susan, the second Sylvia to share the news. 

As time went on the GWG became more sophisticated with its own website. www.genevawritersgroup.org and monthly newsletter. It has its own Facebook page with 1.2K members.

During Covid, the GWG used Zoom to continue workshops and meetings.

Thus today, when we gathered together for Susan's workshop and the Annual General Meeting, it was like breaking out of prison. We were able to hug. I saw new faces as well as people who'd been part of the group since 1993, people who knew my work and I knew theirs.

The past few weeks, it has been hard for me to write. I've had slumps before. Those problems were triggered by things like my mother dying or starting a job in a new country. Now, the problems of my birth country, the desire to make everything in my life as simple as possible were overwhelming me.

Listening to Susan's words today about stories, light, dark,structure, I felt a key turn. I opened the mental door and saw the writing projects that have been locked in. Any excuse has been banished. I know the changes that I need to make. I feel the difference just in writing this blog.

I doubt without the GWG, I would have written the 17 books I've written. Maybe I would have written some, but not as well. Part of it was learning the craft, but another part was injecting new ways of thinking into my being.

                                         Thank you Susan.


 





Saturday, June 25, 2022

Kebob mystery

 


Rick and I alternate cooking days. Often one or the other decides to "cook" at a local restaurant.

I love sushi. He loves kebobs. Sometimes we go to Vesenaz, the next village. where I buy sushi and he goes next door to get a kebob. The owner is a jovial man. When I join them with my sushi bag, he might tease me about not eating his kebabs. Every now and then I would order one of his other dishes like falafel. 

After our purchases we take the food home.

Thus on Wednesday, we decided on a sushi-kebab run. As I was surveying whether I wanted a bowl or maki at the sushi place, Rick appeared. He had gone to order his kebob,

"That was fast," I said.

"It's gone," he said.

It took me a minute or so to realize that he meant the kebob place had disappeared. The outside looked like always, but inside was gutted.

No forwarding address.

 We'll need to find an alternative like the hamburger car at the Château d'If across the street.

And where did the kebob man go and so fast? 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Seeking simplicity

 


 More and more, each and every day I want my life to be as simple as possible. Silly me.

Yesterday we had a long to-do list which involved running around. 

First stop was a success. We walked into the bank, said hi to our favorite teller, admired her decorated nails and went on our way.

From then on it was a repeat of most of our dealings, nothing but problems. We are used to codes that don't work, things that were said to be done that weren't. After hours of trying on line we went to the bank and were told we had to call customer service.

Having recently experienced customer service long holds (59 minutes, to be greeted by a "Bonjour" and then a disconnect click), we were underwhelmed.

I have loved the ease computers have brought into my life, but lately the complications, the safeguards (partially from me, I think) and just plain stupidity, does not endear me. I think of spending a good deal of time ordering my husband's birthday on line only to be told that they no longer shipped to my country. They would not let me reorder when I went back online to have it shipped to my daughter in the same country as the vendor.

It's not just technology. It has taken a year to close another bank account. We've tried internet, letters, emails and in-person visits. I suppose bombs would be illegal and might not even work.

On the flip side of frustration was an outdoor lunch, a pleasant walk "window licking" which is a translation of the French for window shopping, We discovered the food court within the renovated Confederation Centre and glory, glory, one of the vendors sells lobster rolls for another time. There is always feelings from pleasure to joy doing things with my husband.

The rain waited until we were in the car. The sky was the most unusual color of gray and against the green leaves, created a beauty that was soul-soothing. The colors in the photo are somewhat muted. We noticed the lake had changed color from the earlier almost teal blue to silver.,

This morning was filled with simple joys. Still in bed, my husband briefed me on what I had missed of last night's hearing when I fell asleep. We each read, often sharing good writing with one another. 

The dog was between us looking like his usual adorable self. Later we were amused by the dog, when ready to go out, balked when he saw it was raining. His sphincter muscles that control his body functions have amazing control in wet weather.

I love those days when expectations are a cup of tea, writing time, a book, maybe a good movie on Netflix, a yummy meal. Obligations can be as simple as laundry's sweet smell when it dries on the patio. The sunlight streaming through the curtains with the hearts casting love shadows on the wall.

I love it when I'm out and I can observe things around me: a child, a couple holding hands, a dog, a flower. I do not want to miss the life around me. It gives me strength, feeds my soul and at least ammunition for whatever I may be writing or will write.

I want to be feel the sun on my face or the relief of shade and be aware of it with every cell in my body.

I want to reduce my possessions that need to be dusted and/or stored while keeping only the things I love, are useful or have a precious memory. Also my husband's pizza cutter, which is a joke between us. I don't want to lose the ability to see the funny side in things.

When I want to do business with the outside world, I want it to be simple, choose it, pay for it, get it. 

I really enjoy my friends and want to spend time with them, but I also need days alone (or alone with my husband and dog) to savor my home. It's true, when I walk through my flat, my eyes take in its serenity and I feel at peace with the world. It not only helps me be me, it keeps me sane.



Thursday, June 23, 2022

If Texas quits the US

 

 


Texas is talking about pulling out of the U.S.

Supposedly it is impossible because of constitutional issues.. My personal feeling is that any state (not just American) wants to be separate let them. That includes places like Scotland, Barcelona, etc.

Texas, if it did, would be very busy setting up its new country.

1 All Texans would need passports to enter the U.S. and other countries. A trip to Las Vegas, Oklahoma, Louisiana would be impossible without a passport. It might take time for passports to be recognized in other countries. 

Some might not recognize them at all.  To those who never travel away from home, this would not be a problem. For those working for international companies that haven't left Texas would they no longer be able to travel for work.

Would Texas require passports for U.S. Citizens to enter Texas?

2 Trade treaties. No business in Texas could do business outside of Texas without a new treaty. That would mean imports and exports.

3 Currency: The dollar would no longer be valid. A new currency needs to be established and it might or might not be recognized.

4 Payments: Texas sends the U.S. government about $261 billion annually in taxes but receives $39 billion back. This would be a win for them.

5 Businesses: Would headquarters of the 25 multinational have to move? Doing business with a newly formed country could prove difficult. https://www.concordia.edu/blog/top-25-fortune-500-companies-headquartered-in-texas.html?  Texas has 8.6% of the GDP of the country at $1.755 trillion. For a list of Texas company headquartered in the state https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Texas_companies


 

6 Ratings: Texas would no longer have to worry about its overall below average U.S. national rating in most categories of important life. Or maybe it never has.

7 Disasters: In case of another weather disaster, which is far from impossible, Texas should not expect the U.S. to pony up the another $2 billion as it did for Hurricane Harvey. They will be on their own for natural disasters.

8 Oil: Texas has a good bargaining tool with its oil and refineries, but as fossil fuels are being reduced this is a medium term benefit.

And those are just the start.  My fear is Texas is not able to govern itself. Look at its electric grid, for example.

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The day that changed everything

 

"Lobster sub?" My housemate and I parked on a Boston side street lined with townhouses. One was for sale. After eating our subs, we bought it, a handyman's nightmare triggering wonderful years living in Boston. 

 Because of that house, I was able to buy the Riverway condo I adored which allowed me to buy my Nest in the South of France.

 

  "You can speak English," the woman said on the telephone. I was then living in Geneva, Switzerland.  Little did I know when I made the call, she would become a major part of my life by sharing success, silliness and sorrow for close to 30 years.

"I'm in Geneva, Do you want a cup of coffee," the LinkedIn message read. Those words on my computer screen changed my a life that was as close to perfect as possible to something even better. It was from my past. It changed his life too. He moved countries, married me, found his best career move ever, and developed a whole new way to play his beloved golf. He did not expect that with the offer of coffee. He never got the coffee, but a fondue instead.

We never know what little event, what words spoken will lead us into an entire list of events and circumstances that will long-range change our lives. It may takes us years to follow the trail.

Most days are ordinary filled with ordinary actions: buy a melon, do the laundry, play with the dog.

In the same tract, I think of walking into the Polaroid Credit Union before moving to Europe. I had a job interview thinking it was a labor organization. Fortunately, I never let on and that lead to the rest of my meaningful career. Our management team went on to start a credit union for Digital now a billion dollar financial institution.

After moving overseas, I was the international correspondent for Credit Union Times followed by my starting Credit Union News, an internet journal for Canadian credit union executives. Through this work, I met and interviewed a number of world leaders, something as a child in the small town of Reading, MA I never expected. I still am amazed.

Through the World Council of Credit Unions, I ended up fighting FATCA, suing the U.S. Government and appearing at a Congressional hearing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4N9aW5NdE4&t=130s  Scum bag and future White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, then a congressman, hugged me telling me I was his favorite Democrat. None of it did any good. The U.S. is still bullying banks all over the world.

Even more meaningful was during university, my friend Paul Harvey found me in the cubby where I was studying. It was in the music building and I loved hearing the students practicing. "Your father is at Administration," he said. I hadn't seen him for over five years and even before my parents divorced, he was a foggy figure in my life.

That started a relationship not just with him but with my aunts, uncles and cousins that enriched my adult life. My stepmom, an exceptional woman, a loving woman, was the reason he swallowed his fear of rejection and came to see me. She added so much to my life and I hope I did to hers.

On each and every of these life-changing minutes, it can take years to realize what a simple conversation, a lobster sub, not drinking coffee and more can have on our lives. The paths can be convoluted but they make up the journey of our lives.


 

Finding a place to eat

 

"You eat Kermit," my daughter said, after I ordered.

"You eat Miss Piggy," I replied.

That was a couple of decades ago. And during that time I didn't have any more frog legs. I kept thinking of the cartoon I once saw with little frogs escaping from a restaurant kitchen in wheelchairs. I also say very few frog legs on menus either near Geneva or Argelès.

Sunday, we were coming up from Argelès to Geneva via the French autoroute. In past years we would stop at the rest stops with their many restaurants, but now that we had Sherlock, dogs aren't allowed like they are in most French restaurants.

Rather than buy sandwiches and eat at the picnic tables in the heat, we decided to leave the road and travel parallel to the autoroute through little villages.

Only there weren't many villages. One place we passed through had several traffic lights. The village was full of pizza places but we wanted a meal.

Then at the side of the road when we were back on a country road across from a factory, we spied a unicorn statue on a restaurant terrace and auberge. They said every thing was home cooked. 

The dog was welcomed. 

The waiter brought menus on an iPad that which we were able to use to order.

Gazpacho, definitely. They also had frog legs, (they said it was a regional specialty) which I passed for the menu du jour. And they had my favorite dessert, Iles de flouant.  

Back on the road, we located the autoroute, tummies full.



Sunday, June 19, 2022

My 45 birthday paved the way for the next 35 years


 My 45th birthday.

I had just made an offer on this studio in the grenier (attic) of a 400 year old building in the village of Argelès-sur-mer, France.


My dream. To retire in France. To have a studio. To own as little as possible.

The studio because of the strength of the dollar put the cost at $18,000.

Because I spoke no French at the time, a French friend helped me. I flew from Boston and he had five days of visitations arranged.

On the third day, I walked up the stairs and knew. That was it with its beams, skylight, fireplace.

This week while looking through papers, I found this photo of me saying "Oui. Je le acheterai."

I showed it to Rick. We both realized that 35 years later I still had the same dress, which I was wearing that day. I think of my clothes as friends and may update but won't throw out if I still like it.

 


                                                         
 The Nest furnished. 

My plans to retire there only half worked. I now live part time in Switzerland, part time in France. Because Rick came back into my life, it was too small for two (perfect for me alone). For when I'm in France we rent a lovely flat two doors down.

What happened to the studio, named The Nest? It is a guest room for people we like. We use it for internet interviews. Sometimes if our guests are more than two, we sleep there and turn our other flat over to them. 

We did think about making it a B&B but I'm a bad business woman. I don't want to make money on something that I love so much and is a part of my heart. It was an investment in a life I wanted to live, not to enhance my bank account.



Friday, June 17, 2022

Not really a WASP

 


 I grew up thinking I was a WASP, White Anglo Saxon Protestant. 

No matter that my family's only connection with being Protestant was the Congregational Church with an occasional church supper where my grandmother took her scalloped corn casserole and the church Christmas Fair. They had great chicken salad sandwiches in a tasty roll and lots of nice homemade hats and mittens.

As for the AS, my mother's side of the family could trace their English heritage to their arrival on the Blessing in the 1630s. An ancestor, John Sargent, fought in the American Revolution.

No matter that my father was born in Nova Scotia and had been naturalized at 25. My WASP family considered him foreign which made me half WASP with a French last name.

No matter that his side of my family was Catholic, also denied by my WASP side. He did take me to Mass once and as we left for church, my mother said, "Don't be afraid of the bloody statues."

The only part of me that is WASP is the W in WASP. I'm white.

It's a good thing my identity never relied on my WASPdom.

A DNA test confirmed my English/French heritage and added a 1% Norwegian. Hmmm...Maybe a Viking while raiding an English visit spied a pretty lass or maybe he even stayed and raised a family. That might make me a WAFAN. White-Anglo-Franco-Atheist-Norwegian. Or maybe WASFAV, White-Anglo-Saxon-Franco-Atheist-Viking.

Moving to Europe, I was able to visit the village where Michel Boudreau had sailed to Nova Scotia (La Rochelle, France) and proceeded to have 11 children. Prolific devil.

Moving to Europe, I became more aware of the European part of my personality. The first time I arrived in Europe I felt I had come home.

Over the years I took Swiss nationality, gave up my American nationality because of FATCA, and took Canadian nationality through my father.

What do I feel?

I'm a Swiss-Canadian writer born and raised in America. We spend a lot of time in Southern France. Yet, in all of them I'm a bit of an outsider. It doesn't mean I don't meld with some of local customs, follow the politics, celebrate national holidays. In Switzerland, I vote with religious fervor during the many votations during the year.

When I go back to Boston, I feel even more of an outsider, one with a lot of memories, good and bad, as one would have in any life. 

Thinking of myself as an outsider isn't bad. I observe things that people who lived in the same place wouldn't notice. It's enriching.

Maybe a better term than outsider might be international. 

Or I could use the French word Melange, mixture. 

Or, or, or maybe it doesn't matter. I'm me.