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She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink

fluctuat nec mergitur symbol of paris on the gates of the petit palais

It began with a Facebook notification on my phone.

paris

Five AM on a chilly Melbourne day when I was supposed to be writing, but that notification got my attention.

Oh shit, what now? I thought as I reached for the TV remote.

I knew instinctively something had happened in Paris. I’d moved back to Australia years earlier but my heart was still there, along with friends, including two who’d lived near the Bataclan. Expecting a version of that terrible November 2015 night, I was almost relieved when I saw it wasn’t an act of terrorism, but Notre Dame on fire.

Then it hit home.

Notre Dame was on fire. Impossible. Our Lady of Paris had been there for centuries. Surely she always would be?

For the next few hours, I watched, fingers crossed. If anyone could extinguish this blaze, it was the Paris pompiers. I cheered at the sight of their flashlights on the parapet between the belfries, signaling they’d gained control, and headed for my office job.

But something had shifted. I felt it as I, and many others, posted memories. That night, a writer friend responded to one of my posts with:

paris writing retreats

There it was. For years, I’d mulled over hosting retreats. One of the best things about living in Paris was showing fellow writers the city I loved. The iconic landmarks, but also the hidden delights. So, I gathered collaborators and resources. I determined the venue, speakers, and program. Then, two people asked me the same thing a day apart: “I know why you’re doing this, and the program sounds great, but why should people come along?”

fluctuat nec mergitur paris
 Educational card with Our Lady and the boat featured on the Paris coat of arms since 1358

My thoughts immediately went to the Paris city motto, “Fluctuat nec mergitur”–She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink.

“She.”

Because Paris is a woman. Beautiful and joyful, sure, but complex. At times exigeant, at others exhilarating, hard to forget, and, as with the phrase used to describe Notre Dame (Our Lady) after the fire, blessée mais vivant.

Wounded, but still living.

How many of us relate to that? Tossed by the waves, expected to do a lot and not always recognized for it–but still putting our stories out into the world with the faith that they’ll connect to the people who need them most, when they need them most? Stories of struggle, yes, but ultimately love and hope, which some might dismiss as frivolous or smutty or “just” for women. As though our stories have less value, when they literally save lives (“I was going to kill myself, but I was reading your book and decided not to do it that day because I needed to know what happened.”*) or make the passage from this world to whatever lies beyond less painful. (“I read your book to my mother as she was dying, and we both laughed and forgot where we were.”*)

* True stories.

How many of us stay when we’d like to run, get up to care for the kids or others when we need someone to care for us that day? Ready to cry as the demands pile on and we crave the space to create? How many want that week with our writing tribe, but feel lost in big conferences, told in one form or another that our stories don’t matter? Or have righted ourselves after turbulence, and are eager to explore what’s over the next crest?

One of my favorite movie scenes is the Midnight Margarita one in “Practical Magic.” I watched it again when pondering why?, and I finally figured out why that scene resonates.

It’s the alchemy of multiple generations of women gathering together, the casting of protective spirits to keep out darkness out and let in joy. The importance of music and movement and creating space for others to play while laughing–some would say cackling, but what would they know?–along the way.

So, if you’re asking yourself Why should I come along?, here’s my answer:

We–the team and I–are the adults for the week. We’ll get you on the bus to that field trip, pack your lunch, sneak in snacks and little gifts, create those boundaries so you can relinquish your responsibilities, breathe, explore, play. If your writing needs nurturing, we have a coach for that–because your stories do matter, and we want them out in the world. Or if you want to strike out on your own, like “Eloise in Paris,” we’ll have the ice cream ready for your return.

And when night falls, we’re the witchy aunts who unapologetically encourage you to slip out of bed and dance around the house in your jim-jams like wild, juicy women. We’ll conjure up the magic that helps you rediscover the adventure and passion that first fueled your writing.

Only since this is Paris, we’ll trade the tequila for rosé and champagne 🥂

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