Major Life Update

Friends!

It’s been nearly a year and a half since last I wrote you from Paris, on Bastille Day 2017. How it must seem that I dropped off the face of the earth!

Apologies for the radio silence, but there are major reasons for it. My life has changed in just about every aspect since last we spoke. The transformation both in the external realities of my situation – and in the internal landscape I inhabit.


Sometimes when you’re shaking everything up, the need to narrate publicly what’s happening takes a back seat. You dive deep into the experience itself. You focus on the actions required to reshape your life from scratch.

I live in Valencia, Spain now, friends. I celebrated my one-year anniversary here at the start of this month.

From the moment I arrived, I felt so at home.

I have a large apartment with a sunny balcony in a neighborhood I love.

I walk to work where I teach English as a foreign language to wonderful adult students. Spanish surrounds me now, though I’m trying my best to keep up French. I worked so hard to learn the language! And it is thanks to becoming a French citizen that I could make such a smooth transition to another European country.

Valencians spend just as much time, if not more, enjoying life at cafes as Parisians. Bonus: warmer temps + cheaper drinks!

When last I wrote, this plan was not in place. There was an inkling, a vague pull, a little voice that started whispering “Valencia” in my ear. I had never been to the city and didn’t know a soul here. But sun, sea, Spanish – the call came louder and louder. I did not know I would actually decide all of a sudden that it was time. But I did. Like that Rilke exhortation “you must change your life.”

La Lonja de la Seda (The Silk Exchange)

An idea, a restlessness, then a command.

Dancing in the Umbracle

You may remember I left Paris a few months before the 2016 election to return to the States to do some get out the vote work and help my mother through knee surgery. Then, outraged at the political results, decided to stay and fight.

Well, when I returned to visit Paris that following summer I felt myself breathing again. The Trump regime is toxic. I honestly think the country is in collective crisis because of it. Escaping for a bit started to change my own calculus of what to do.

The back alleys of Valencia’s old town.

Then something else happened. Long-time blog readers might recall that I’ve had a finished novel sitting around for years and that finally, it was supposed to be published. I had a book deal.

In Cafe Artysana. There’s an active co-working scene in VLC.

The first small press that signed my book (for release in 2017) ended up closing right as my book was up in the queue. A huge blow.

Always half full

A few months passed, but then I found myself with another small press. Communication was not ideal, but all small presses are a labor of love and I know people do their best.

Then my editor ghosted. Literally stopped responding to all emails. The realization that another deal was evaporating again came soon after I last wrote you. Heart break, part deux.

It may seem strange to say, but this series of disappointments was actually lucky. Impossible to know at the time, but I’m certain of it now.

It was at that point that I decided to stop writing, at least for awhile. I know it’s not the story we’re supposed to present to the world (the officially sanctioned version is “never give up!”).

Calle de la Paz (Street of Peace), central Valencia

But the fact is, surrendering was the healthiest thing I did for myself. My perspective widened. Yes, publishing a novel has always been a dream. But what other dreams did I have? What other desires did I have inside that I had suppressed for so long?

The Botanical Gardens

With so much despair at the state of the world, I also started feeling a distinct case of carpe diem. We don’t know how long we have here or if the conditions will always allow us to follow our heart. What would I do if I wanted to be happy?

Remember how sad the lack of sunlight made me in Paris? Here, I have this.

Spain. Living in Spain was a dream I’ve held for as long as I can remember. And that was something I could make happen myself.

Amazing flamenco concert in a laid-back cafe.

I also wanted my days to have more human contact again. As an introvert, sitting behind a computer screen is a comfort for me. My love of words has been my compass since I was a child. But I also love to be amidst people in a more immediate way, to be of some service in real-time. Writing as a job can be a lonely one, full of constant rejection. What if I looked for another way?

Calle del Dr. Montserrat. The first street I ever stayed on in Valencia.

I signed up for a CELTA program and got a teaching certificate (with highest marks!) soon after arriving. I have now been in a classroom ever since.

Palm trees everywhere – a delight!

I could not be any more grateful for where this path has taken me. Because if things had “worked out” years ago, I’m not sure where I would be. But I don’t think it would be in the City of Joy (one of Valencia’s nicknames). I’m not sure I would have started a new career, which I’m learning from each day. I’m not sure I would have pushed myself to stay open to renewal and brand new starts.

Looking into El Carmen from the Torres del Quart.

And as it so happens, third time is indeed a charm. Without seeking, without even a thought that it was still a possibility, two publishers contacted me about my manuscript on two consecutive days this year. Completely out of the blue. Serendipity. A dream I had no longer been pursuing came to find me anyway.

In Fall 2019, my first novel, As a River, will be published by Jaded Ibis Press. It is amazing to finally have a real champion for my work.

I’ve wondered what to do with this blog. For 7+ years it had been an anchor, made me see the riches within my life. Paris would never have been the same if I did not have this open channel with you. It’s hard to let go.

And yet, I am most certainly not in Paris anymore.

“I’m home,” I whispered in the taxi on the dark December night I arrived in Valencia. I had only 2 suitcases and some hope (this seems to be how I move countries) and I didn’t know what lay before me. But there was some strange alchemy drawing me here and I immediately felt I was in the right place.


 There’s a lot more color in my life. This photo was literally 5 days after arrival!

Are you still out there? How shall we stay in touch? I so loved the community we built here and would love to share with you my new adventures. But they are not Paris-based anymore.

Follow me to my newsletter? Sion’s Sparkle Desk. They’ll be like little lights in your inbox every once in awhile. I adore a good letter.

In Russafa

I’m going to keep this blog open as a record of my Paris decade. What a marvel it was. Perhaps I’ll post big updates about my book, too, as I would love you to join me on that journey. I wrote that novel in Paris. It’s connected to that city in a deep way.

I’ve missed you, friends. Tell me what you think. I’d love to know what’s going on with you and how we can still connect!

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Bastille Day Bonanza

Friends!

Happy Bastille Day. Or as we say here, the 14th of July.

This is not Bastille Day, but rather a random summer Saturday. Jazz night! Parisians dressed as flappers! Dance! A fun time.

After a week of gray and rain (some downpours historically torrential!), the skies cleared up for France’s national ball.

In case you can’t make out the name of this restaurant with its patriotic flag decor: Food. Hmm, yes. Descriptive! (Actually supposed to be quite good!)

As per usual, it seems I’m spending more time gallivanting and less time checking in. So! A few snapshots of goings on!

Flame throwers in front of Notre Dame. But of course!

Waiting for an outdoor poetry event to commence.

I’ve had to do some administrative stuff, too. I stumbled into this hidden office space village. Wouldn’t mind working on this private canal!

No big deal. Just last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Viet Thanh Nguyen, at Shakespeare & Company.

I’ve also had some personally touching moments. Do you remember when I started Write-in Paris (WIP), the writing salon I hosted in my home? Yes, that was one of the best things I created during my time in the City of Light. When I gave up my apartment in search of new adventures, my friend Christine asked if she could take over WIP. Mais oui! I was so delighted that the tradition would continue.

Christine invited me over for the final meeting of WIP before summer break. It was so lovely being a part of the writing salon in its new incarnation.

View from Christine’s living room. Yes, that’s the dome of the Pantheon you spot there. On the other side of her apartment is a sunny balcony overlooking Rue Mouffetard.

I also got to meet a writer whose work I adore. You may remember when I interviewed Naomi J. Williams upon the release of her fantastic novel Landfalls. We became online friends and this week we finally got to meet in person. She’s doing research for her next novel (yay!) which she’s calling Akiko in Paris.

Naomi had just arrived after retracing the Japanese poet’s trek from Tokyo to Paris (including an epic journey on the Trans-Siberian railway! Really, check out her account.) We grabbed coffee one day (at the adorable Cafe Lomi near where she was staying), then ventured out the following day to the launch of Freeman’s Journal featuring book critic extraordinaire John Freeman, and super famous, fabulous authors Edwidge Danticat and Marie Darrieussecq. SWOON!

Naomi and I waiting for the reading.

John Freeman, Edwidge Danticat, and Marie Darrieussecq.

I would be neglecting another big news item if I didn’t mention that the US prez* paid a visit to Paris for Bastille Day festivities. I felt it my duty as both an American and French citizen to stop by the anti-Trump protest last night. Yes, of course there was one! (In fact, there were three!)

Pretty clear message.

Also to the point: Trump idiocracy.

Macron wined and dined 45 and I’m sure he was impressed. I mostly ignored the ignobility of his visit here.

I also missed most of today’s morning celebrations because 1) I sleep late and 2) military parades are not usually my thing. But I tuned in just in time! The brass band busted into a tribute of Daft Punk. Wha?? So cool! (Video below).

So, I’m stepping out on the lighter note. Less than 2 weeks left of my summer sojourn here (sob!) so soaking it all up while I can. Outdoor movies start next week. Day trips always a possibility. Mostly just seeing friends.

Which, speaking of, friends – YOU! – I’ve just started a newsletter I’d love for you to subscribe to if you’re so inclined. I’ve been thinking there’s lots of other fun things I’d love to share with you all that aren’t always Paris-related. Publishing news! Big moves! Silly stories! There will be a splash of Paris thrown in, too, of course, but it will be more of a free-wheeling digest.

It’s also going back to my roots. I used to send monthly musings via email to everyone I knew and I loved the more intimate form of letters (even if they are digital). A complement to the very public web.

So, I will keep posting to the blog, too (which you can also subscribe to!), but some special content will appear only in the newsletter. I hope you sign up for Sion’s Sparkle Desk . (Yes, a random name; I’ll share what’s up with it in the newsletter).  It’s all a fun experiment at the moment and I look forward to sending my first one soon.

Until then, raise a glass for the fête nationale. Enjoy your weekend!

“In this garden we speak French.”

Paris Summer Update

Friends!

I’ve already fallen off duty in documenting my forays in the City of Light. Turns out I’m too busy relishing my time in Paris to sit down and report on it. Sometimes life is to live!

The days are fun and full (how could I forget how much I adore the long nights, light still in the sky until 11 pm? And my, it has been many months since I described my days as “fun”).

Shall I tell you about attending a quirky film event called Kinoma at the National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France)?

We saw some excellent short films, sat through a random sketch about dating (I think), awkwardly congregated in the lobby (the audience was instructed to leave the cinema while the film jury deliberated and invited to dance while DJ Metrosex spun tunes in the meantime. True story! DJ Metrosex!). Then we returned, awards were handed out and accepted as informally as if we were in someone’s living room. I loved the casual vibe.

At one point, after a long discourse by one of the invited guests, Ericka and I turned to each other and mouthed: this is so French! It was almost as if we’d forgotten how much this is a country of talking and debate. (Bonus tidbit for long-time blog readers: this is the same Ericka who received her doctorate in French cinema by defending a 600-page dissertation in French many years ago. She is also now based in the States but back for her Paris summer. We are obviously both discussing the possibility of returning).

Grand prix awards ceremony! (Photo courtesy of Kinoma).

Anyway, it was all random and interesting and really wonderful. These kinds of unexpected, offbeat experiences are my jam.

Other awesomeness! One of my besties (who took over hosting my writing salon, WIP) celebrated her birthday with a treasure hunt, petanque at Place Dauphine, and a fete on Pont Neuf. I met the beautiful new baby of another. There have been picnics at the bassin near the Bastille, coffee along the canal, and above all, time with my beau and long catch-ups with good friends.

It’s been wild how easy it’s been to slip right back in. That ease has been delightful and is obviously a comfort that I feel at home. Though on the other hand it makes me wonder: have I not grown at all since I left? I thought I might be further along on a new path. Wasn’t the idea to discover who I am away from Paris? What’s my identity when it’s not tied to the City of Light?

But perhaps that’s missing the point. I will always be tied to this city, it will always be a part of who I am. And this journey of discovery is a constant, a lifelong pursuit. Always ongoing, always unfolding, always evolving.

Last week, France endured a heatwave, with the hottest night recorded since 1872 (!) The canicule collided with Fête de la Musique, an all-night musical festival in the streets (and bars and churches and everywhere). Some experience this as a magical evening and others think that, particularly when paired with scorching heat, it approximates some version of a very noisy hell. But it falls on the solstice and is a true marker of Paris summer.

Continue reading ‘Paris Summer Update’

Lost in Frenchlation

The screening room at Studio 28. Photo courtesy of Lost in Frenchlation.

Friends!

I arrived in Paris, just in time for a heatwave and the last round of legislative voting.

I also finally made it to an event I’ve been invited to for well over a year.

Rarely do I make plans for the same day I land (jetlag, anyone?), but the evening’s opportunity was too good to pass up.

The garden tea room at Cinema Studio 28. Photo courtesy of Lost in Frenchlation.

Lost in Frenchlation has a simple mission: bring renowned French films to a broader audience by screening French films with English subtitles.

The Franco-Australian pair behind Lost in Frenchlation, Manon and Matt. Photo courtesy of Lost in Frenchlation.

When you think about it, the idea makes total sense. Film is such an important part of French culture and there are so many international folks in Paris. Unless you’re completely fluent, it can be difficult to follow a movie in your non-native tongue. Lost in Frenchlation allows easier access to current French films, as well as providing a convivial cocktail before or after for a full social night.

Events are held at Studio 28, the oldest screening room in Paris.

I was happy to get a chance to check out LIF, whose popularity has grown quickly. They were right about there being quite a market for their offerings! (Lost in Translation is currently nominated for “best reoccurring event in Paris” by Expatriates Magazine. The young organization had also just held their first event in London the previous night.)

I admit it was the specific film and event that had me particularly intrigued and gave me the energy to fight the fatigue upon my arrival to attend.

On Friday, June 16, the film on tap was Le Concours, a documentary about the strenuous entrance exam to La Fémis, one of the most prestigious film schools in the world. The director of the film, Claire Simon, was on hand afterward for a Q&A.


The film’s trailer, (only available in French – see why Lost in Frenchlation is needed?)

Le Concours was great – I could do a whole separate post about the movie itself! But needless to say it’s quite an experience to get a truly inside look at the highly competitive selection process of such an institution (A thousand candidates applied for 60 spots).


A clip from the film – *with* English subtitles!

The film lends itself to all kinds of juicy questions about art, subjectivity, inequality, and elitism. (Simon made a compelling remark in the Q&A about France “constantly recreating a gentry” – whoa, we could dig into that one for ages!).

Continue reading ‘Lost in Frenchlation’

“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)

Janice MacLeod is the New York Times bestselling author of Paris Letters, a charming memoir of a Canadian copywriter’s leap from corporate day job to a creative life in the City of Light.

A page from A Paris Year.

MacLeod is back with her second book now. A Paris Year is less memoir and more sophisticated visual journal. Janice is not only an ace writer, you see. She’s also a talented artist; the book is full of her photographs and watercolor paintings. If she weren’t so delightful, one might almost be jealous of her overabundance of gifts.

But she is delightful! It’s our good fortune to get to go along for the ride she takes us on. A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World (St. Martin’s Griffin) follows a curious, creative soul’s discovery of Paris. With a whimsical, humorous style, the days fly beautifully by.

In honor of the book’s launch next week, I’m thrilled to offer not just one, but TWO free copies of A Paris Year. Simply comment by June 23, 10 am EST to enter. I’m thrilled, as well, to welcome Janice to the blog. We just missed each other in Paris. I would love to have met her in person. But she sparkles on the page as you’ll soon see.

Paris Letters was your inspirational tale of following a dream. A Paris Year is more curated journal, a combination of personal and historical anecdotes matched with your photographs, watercolors, and other artistic touches. I know a little something about how a book only featuring words (!) is produced. But how do you assemble a highly sophisticated mixed media diary? Like literally, how? Each page is its own art object! I’d love to hear the process of how this book came to be, both in the creative sense and the actual mechanics.

Author Janice MacLeod with one of her painted letters.

How A Paris Year was created is twofold: First, the organizing of information. Second, the actual creating of the pages (the “Like literally, how?”).

First, the organizing. I had a slew of journals from my time in Paris. Plus, I had a slew of photos on my computer. I also had the watercolor paintings of my Paris Letters, the painted letters I create and sell on Etsy.

At first, the plan was to make a book of all the letters. That proved a little dry when you line them all up, simply because sometimes I had a better photo than a painting of something, and sometimes I had a better sketch than photo or painting. Or I knew I could describe something better than I could take a photo or paint it. So my plan evolved to gather the best of all the visual elements.

Then I was walking through Bon Marché on the left bank in Paris and I came across a beautiful journal. I loved the creamy color of the pages, the font of the date at the top of the page, and the feel of it. As soon as I saw it I knew I had an idea for the canvas for my art, and a way to organize my collection… from January to December. I returned to my big pile of art and arranged it according to month. All January photos and paintings with a January theme and so on until December. I researched the notorious people of Paris: kings, queens, artists, authors, and inserted their stories in the appropriate months when they either lived, died, or did something of note. I added more photos and paintings as I went along.

Then a wonderful thing happened. I began to see links. For example, I wrote about the beheading of the king, who was carried to the beheading in a green carriage. Now all the park benches, bookstalls and fountains are painted a certain shade called Carriage Green, which led me to talk about my favorite Carriage Green fountain in front of Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which led to talking about Hemingway, as this was his favorite bookstore, and I happened to write about this on the day before Zelda Fitzgerald’s birthday, who was the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway’s friend, so I wrote about her. All these links seemed to run into each other until I had a year in Paris.

Second, the actual putting together of the book. I confess, I’m not an Adobe wiz. I scanned all my art and used picmonkey, an online photo editor, to create the pages. It was fast and user friendly. Then, I plopped all these art pages in Adobe InDesign (that’s what the printer needs to print the book), and typed in the text because my handwriting is too messy. It was a lot of learning. I’m more of a paint and paper kind of girl, not so much of a digital artist…but I learned so much in the process that I suppose now I am a digital artist. Though Adobe still scares me.

The book blends your personal notes with brief facts about famous Parisian figures. How did you decide upon the right balance? I would imagine an intuitive unfolding…

The more I tend to look at a page, the more I notice how there is only really one route to take. Sure there are other options that float around, but after a year of fiddling with the pages, there is usually one winning way to go.

As for the balance between the memoir aspect of the book and the facts about famous Parisian figures feature of the book, I just wrote all the interesting bits and left out the boring bits.

An example of one of Janice’s painted letters.

I often say to people who I tour around Paris that I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I basically retain the interesting bits and abandon the rest. A Paris Year is filled with all the bits I find interesting. If you’re looking for a full tour of Paris, call Rick Steves. If you’re looking for a lovely way to see Paris without being inundated with details, check out A Paris Year.

As for the memoir aspect of the book, I wanted my readers of Paris Letters (the book this time, not the subscription service) to notice parts of the year that run parallel to moments in the previous book. Little Easter eggs for loyal readers to notice and think, AHHH I remember that moment! Because the books were lived around the same time.

I noticed quite a strain of Ernest Hemingway and A Moveable Feast as inspiration throughout the book. Paris is a city of ghosts and you note that Hemingway seemed to be aiding you along. What do you feel Paris offers you as an artist – or how are you influenced by it? – this city which so many creative souls have inhabited?

When I’m in Paris, I find it easy to answer all the burning questions of my life. I can’t exactly explain it. I feel it’s more than just intuition. I think everyone has ghosts following them around in Paris. Mine happens to be Hemingway. When I first arrived in Paris, I read A Moveable Feast, which has many great lines about life in Paris. These great lines seemed to float around with me on my walks. Plus, the book is also a guidebook for writers on writing, so his advice and experiences in Paris were helpful to me while writing my books about Paris.

Your Paris is lovely and romantic. Yet you did decide to move back to your native Canada and seem to be something of a traveling nomad now. I’m curious to hear why you left – and any insights you’ve learned about this journey (a selfish question, maybe. I’m in the midst of this huge transition now!)

A painted letter.

I definitely had my dreams fulfilled by living in Paris: A book, a thriving online business, and meeting the lovely Christophe. He was feeling tired of Paris. He’d been here for 15 years by that point. I thought perhaps we could fulfill his dream of moving to the mountains of Canada. Plus, as a seasoned visa applicant (like every other expat in France), I thought we should move to a place where I wouldn’t have to spend half my time getting visas approved. I’m Canadian, so moving to Canada was a relatively easy move. The French administration can tire a person out.

Continue reading ‘“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)’

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Eiffel Tower Excitement

So you know I’m committed to offbeat adventures and seeing the City of Light in new ways. But I watched this video and wondered: would I be willing to do this?

(Email readers, you’ll have to click to the blog to view. You might want to turn down your sound if you’re at work, too!).

In honor of the French Open, Perrier (of sparkling water fame), erected a zipline from the Eiffel Tower that has you hurtling up to 55 miles/hour at 375 feet high. (Apparently tennis balls reach a similar speed. Um, yeah. Interesting connection).

You can practice your French with this video showcasing more stunts from the Iron Lady:

So, question of the day: Would you test this zipline?

This exciting experiment is free, but only open until June 11. (Which, phew! I’ll just miss it so you won’t know if I’m too timid to try!)

Upside Down World (Update!)

Friends!

You’d be forgiven for thinking I disappeared from the face of the earth. When last I wrote you, it was November 4. Hmm. We all know what happened soon thereafter.

France is known for numerous strikes and demonstrations, but my life back in the States has become one perpetual protest since the election. But! I’ve met lots of great folks this way. Here I’ve turned to snap this random shot and spotted my seatmate from the Women’s March. We rode from Durham to DC together. Small world!

Returning to one’s home country after spending years abroad is already a difficult task. Numerous studies show that “reverse culture shock” can be just as profound as the move to a foreign country. The experience can even feel more confusing, as “home” is a place we’re supposed to know, and yet it’s home that has become foreign in a way. We’re confronting it from a very changed perspective.

Continue reading ‘Upside Down World (Update!)’


paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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