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May 20, 2021

My life: forever a rough draft!

I’ve picked up my pen hundreds of times to recreate a better life for myself on paper.

I remember as a little girl, when a heavy cloud of sadness would fill the kitchen at Caplan, I would run to my room, slam the door and open my secret notebook. I didn’t write about Mom or Dad, or even about the boastful brother who thought he was better than everyone else.

I’d sharpen my pencil with a small tin sharpener and would draw the face of an angel or a fairy godmother with the power to transform me into a princess. I would then write a few bright words of hope, and poof! I would magically become the young daughter of a queen capturing all the day’s happiness in pink-coloured ink in a pretty notebook.

I still wonder where I got this celestial imagination that I always turned to when I needed to escape the darkness. We had no books in the house, no beautiful children’s books like we have today, no exciting novels, no magazines on this or that subject, nothing except the Grolier Encyclopedia that Dad had bought on installment so Mom would have something to read. I remember it so well. The text was dry, and despite several moves, the 18 large numbered volumes still looked brand new when Dad passed away in November 1980. By then we kids had grown up, and no one said anything when Mom got rid of them.

Just how did all those angels get into my head? Were they in the town’s church, those majestic statues surrounding the Virgin Mary? Were they in the school, their holy images on the classroom walls? Or affixed to the margins of our notebooks when we had done our homework especially well?

In fact, angels have always been in my head. And I’m sure you’ve noticed them, dear reader, wandering through the paragraphs of my letters. They are the ones who lace together my sentences so prettily, who gently illuminate each word with emotion and grasp onto the memories and pull them into the light.

All these years, I and the angels have been writing together until I am finally ready to read my words. Hallelujah! They help me to build a bridge to the Sun each time a storm blows. I cannot see them, but they are everywhere, benevolent and attentive.

Don’t laugh, dear reader, but if all the self-help books I have read in my life were vines, I would have climbed up to wait at Heaven’s door long ago. But I am still too proud, pretending I can light a fire with wood soaked in tears. Navigating uncertainties, I accumulated piles and piles of writing paper – poems to unknown gods, stories full of impassioned desires and dozens of novellas about a fabulous future. And yet, even today, this tireless old woman continues to hold to the belief that a divine hand wisely wrote the script to her long life.

Turning woes into words, I have poured my story onto the page; I’ve shared my secrets and the heavy feeling that has stayed with me all my life that I did not deserve my mother’s love.

Was I that ill-tempered? Or too secretive or so lost in my made-up world? I grew up ignored and unaware of what was going on in my parents’ hearts. I lacked love, affection and tenderness, but perhaps it was this very privation that stimulated my resilience, my creativity and my passion to tell stories.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was neglected that made me aspire to be better, to prove my worth, to deserve the earth under my feet? Perhaps it was the desire for recognition that motivated me to create a business, that pushed me to take on greater challenges? 

I remember, I was 10 years old and already searching for obscure words in the dictionary like beautiful bronze agates on a pebble beach, to string together in short pleasing sentences that portended a writerly life ahead. Sometimes I think that my love for writing comes from a deep need to build a future of my own, a bridge to the other shore, where everything would be love and beauty. So many drafts, notebooks, essays and leaf after leaf have flown away to these utopian lands. There is a wound in me that is healing ever so slowly as I devour good books, draw and cook. Writing is a way for me to sense that I am alive, to face my uncertainties and to coax my destiny towards me.

Actually, I sometimes wish I were a tree, a fir tree if I had a choice. Planted firmly in the ground, the magnificent fir tree spends its life thinking but never cries. It doesn’t want to be a sweet maple, a grand oak or a beautiful lilac bush. The fir tree envies no one. Its gentle heart falls in love with each season, and around its trunk, a never-ending festive scene unfolds. Its strong arms are always bright and coloured, with an intoxicating scent. Fir trees are the sturdiest beings in nature, living a very, very long time; some 500 years according to experts. I can almost pronounce them to be perfect from the moment they are born. They are surrounded by adults who are loved and loving; they don’t require thousands of leaves to scrawl their worries and loneliness on that they then crumple up.

If I were a fir tree, I would place hundreds of small breakfast saucers on my sturdy branches for the birds to enjoy. Each one would contain little suet pancakes stuffed with sunflowers and wheat, along with little bits of meat fat, apples and pears. There would also be balls made from shells of insects mixed with butter, plus little wild berries to add a festive touch to each little winged feast. If I were a fir tree, I would invite my friends the red cardinal, the black-capped chickadee, the goldfinch, the blue jay and the hairy woodpecker. Together, we would sing the “Hymne au printemps” by Félix Leclerc.

 From afar, your heart would hear the beat of my own.




 Psst: “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as in being able to remake ourselves.”  Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)