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On Monday, an interesting experience – speaking to Lynn’s colleagues at the University of Montpellier about the teaching of creative writing. Lynn and I caught the sleek blue tramway to a campus strewn with oleanders, where 12 or 14 linguistics professors and a few students came to hear one professor speak about the Aesthetic Movement in British art, and then moi. It was a little intimidating, all those sceptical French Ph.D.’s, who come from a country where creative writing is not taught at any level because everyone believes, first, that writing cannot be taught and second, that the kind of personal writing I teach is for self-indulgent, self-centred, confession-spilling North Americans and never for the dignified, private French. How could I convince them otherwise?

Especially with my bra strap hanging out. There I was in a silk cap-sleeved blouse, about to speak to this august assembly, when my bra decided to take a hike. God knows what happened, but suddenly the strap was dangling down my arm and I was trying to hoist it back without sticking a hand inside my blouse and yanking. It was so embarrassing. Finally, after some wriggling and writhing, I had to say, “I’m so nervous, my underwear is reacting,” and they all laughed. Lynn said later that it was definitely the first time a group of French linguists had a chuckle about a brassiere before hearing a talk.
I told them how popular journals are now chez nous, that children even keep them in school and share them with their class, and about the burgeoning of writing programs, both for credit and not, at colleges and universities. Much polite rolling of French eyes. Then, the specifics of my memoir courses at Ryerson and U of T – how to help student writers relax, tell the truth, learn the craft. I’d dug up an impressive quote from Montaigne and one from Colette, and a wonderful quote from Marilynne Robinson, who has just won the Orange Prize and who has taught Creative Writing for many years. They seemed engaged for the half hour, and after I’d finished, there were some great questions. One asked how to handle students who are delving into difficult truths and might be harmed or go over the edge; Lynn asked how many students want to be published and how many achieve it. One elderly professor, who apparently used to be President of the University, asked a very complicated question involving “auto-romans” – autobiographical novels, some sort of new genre in France. I did my best to answer intelligently though I actually had no idea what he was talking about.
In the end, they concluded that it would be interesting to try to introduce something similar into the French system – I offered to come and spearhead it as long as I could live in Montpellier – but that there would be fundamental resistance, because the French simply do not do that kind of thing.
After this visit, I am left with even more respect for my friend Lynn. The French academic system is one appallingly difficult test after another, an endless series of hurdles, and she has somehow jumped them all and is flourishing. She loves her arcane field and relished telling me about conjunctive clauses in the work of Alice Munro. And she can make that sound interesting.
We weren’t too sad to bid each other goodbye Tuesday morning – she is leaving for Lille for a month for work, and will spend her 60th birthday there, but will be back in Gordes mid-July. I am grateful for the time we’ve had but was glad to get out of her way; though she never complained, I’ve felt like a cuckoo, pushing her out of her nest. At the station, there was another strike somewhere so the usual tension – which train would actually arrive and which wouldn’t? Mine, luckily, did, only 10 minutes late, and I was painlessly an hour later in Avignon, to meet another best friend, Chris from Vancouver. Chris used to live in Nice and decided to connect with me and my trip while reconnecting with his past. He’d come from almost a week in Nice with old friends, and there he was, in his plaid shorts, waiting for me at the station in Avignon.
We checked our bags and walked around the town for a bit, climbing the hill behind the spectacular Palais des Papes and then eating a pan bagnat – he described it as “a salade nicoise on a bun” – in a park.
To Be Continued

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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