residency

My Swiss residency at Maison Binet conjured some surprising commentary.

Polly Glover sent me this remarkable Facebook message, and I wanted to share it with you.

My aunt, whom I loved dearly, lived in Trélex for 50 years right across the street. As a child, I met Mme. Binet and saw her weaving studio. She was such a beautiful woman, inside and out, as I remember. Madame Binet was close friends with my aunt, who kept up with her family until her death last fall.

When I googled Trélex, with the hopes to return there for a visit one day, your name and adventure came up. The family’s activities surprised and delighted me! How fabulous the artist in residence must be, especially in the village of Trélex.

Please take the strength from Trélex with you as you go out into the world, knowing you have been touched by an angel in Mme. Binet. Do what you love. She would want that. I have enjoyed reading about your adventures while in Trélex and wish you the best of life.

I love the thought of her protecting and inspiring the artists and writers who visit. Given everything I’ve been through in recent years, her message gave me much comfort.

And surprise! Even meticulous writers like me make gaffes.

A few corrections on the information I posted about Maison Binet, straight from the Trélex Residency’s curator.

Small correction on the story. Nina Rodin merely rents the place. The landlady’s father was Jean Binet, a composer. She was born in the house 80 years ago. The house is named after the composer now, but construction started in the 17th century. Some of it, including the yellow facade, is 19th century. It was a trading post for horse drawn transport between Switzerland and France. The space under the roof, now the studio, was probably the main warehouse space.

dinosaur

Dinosaur Provincial Park, the world’s largest cache of cretaceous fossils, is located in Alberta’s Badlands. Calgary, the closest international airport, is over two hours by car, to give readers a sense of how much nothing is nearby.

We did Dinosaur Provincial Park in one day.

Here’s how:

dinosaur

MTM, the fossil-finding expert.

Arrive early.

While the park offers ample campground space, visitors like me who want to sleep in a lodge are out of luck. We booked an Air B & B, set our alarm clocks, and made it to the park by 9am. The Badlands are a desert environment. Mid-afternoon gets hot. Booking a morning excursion keeps everybody more comfortable.

dinosaur

MTM found this gorgosaurus tooth.

Book at least one guided tour.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is massive, but much of it is a natural preserve for paleontologists and park staff. The natural preserve is only open to those on a guided tour. We chose the morning Fossil Safari and were picking our way through a fossil bed by 10am. A park guide helped us determine which of our finds were fossils (everything MTM found) and which were rocks (everything I dragged over.)

Take a gander at DPP’s guided tours HERE.

dinosaur

The men enjoying our picnic by the Red Deer River.

Take a picnic.

The park offers ample picnic areas, with tables and fire pits. Firewood is even available at a kiosk. With only one snack bar onsite and the town of Brooks a thirty-minute drive away, bringing a picnic equals the best shot at a full belly.

dinosaur

Because everybody puts gorgosaurus fossils in their mouths, right?

Be gobsmacked.

When we took our guideson Cooper to Dinosaur Provincial Park for his sixth birthday, we didn’t expect to enjoy it as adults. We booked a visit to the paleontology lab thinking it’d give us some blessed air conditioning. Instead, we took a fascinating tour with a real paleontologist and got a chance to touch real fossils. Outside, fossils were EVERYWHERE. By the time we boarded the bus for our sunset photography tour, we knew what to look for.

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Dinosaur Provincial Park’s Natural Preserve near sunset.

The lesson? You never know what might happen when you book a trip you think you won’t like. We loved Dinosaur Provincial Park and are already planning a future trip to Alberta to expand our horizons.

Read all about Cooper in my NYT best selling memoir Not Without My Father. Click HERE to get a copy in your preferred format.

What places have surprised you?

Tell us about your experiences in a comment today.

I have numerous options to explore on my last day as Writer's Desk Resident, but I find myself drawn to this room, this garden view, the still construction cranes, the clock tower that chimes every hour twice, the rumble of thunder over the Jura.

I sit in my window seat, afraid to leave my Trélex cell and the hope it gave me. I have numerous options to explore on my last day as Writer’s Desk Resident, but I find myself drawn to this room, this garden view, the still construction cranes, the clock tower that chimes every hour twice, the rumble of thunder over the Jura. The rain ushered in a coolness. It whispered, “Stay in and savor what you’ve been given.”

How many Americans can spend five weeks in Switzerland writing? So I should shut my privileged mouth already and smile through my blind spot and be grateful I'm fairy-dusted with the means to follow my dream.

I embarked on this residency with months of pharmaceutical sludge clogging my brain, stifling my heart, making me doubt everything I once believed myself capable of. I realize nobody reads that sentence and feels sorry for me.

To other writers, I’ve hit a list. Why do I need help? To my friends, I keep my struggles hidden to the point that one chewed me out when he understood the magnitude of my disease. To the establishment, I’m an outsider with no pedigree who has the nerve to try for things reserved for the anointed, the celebrity, the elite. To the average reader, I’m nobody. How many Americans can spend five weeks in Switzerland writing? So I should shut my privileged mouth already and smile through my blind spot and be grateful I’m fairy-dusted with the means to follow my dream.

When I started this journey, I was mentally tough. I'm not saying rejection and disappointment didn't impact me, but I was Wonder Woman walking into no mans land, swatting bullets like pesky flies. Now, I will never be well.

Here’s my reality.

When I entered this lions den, I believed the lions would win. On the outside, I make things happen. I report every yes with gusto and glee without giving an exhaustive rundown of the crippling rejections I receive, the trolling of my work because I fired a worthless publicist, the number of times I have to prove I hit a list, the frequency of direct laughter in my face for daring to seek my place at the table, or the ways people try to use me.

When I started this journey, I was mentally tough. I’m not saying rejection and disappointment didn’t impact me, but I was Wonder Woman walking into no mans land, swatting bullets like pesky flies. Now, I will never be well.

Knowing that worked its way into the crevices of my psyche. It bonded with a drug cocktail to shatter my belief in myself. Maybe I really do write like an amateur. Perhaps I don’t belong at this conference/in this library/on this panel/in this group. Why did anyone even give a failure like me a residency? I see my numbers. I know how little anyone cares about my work. These thoughts pummeled me every day for almost a year. Oh, I got up at first. Kept going. Faked my own invincibility. But I’m not Wonder Woman. I bleed. I doubt. I fear. And I fail.

For months, I couldn’t create, because everything I made lacked the razor’s edge of risk, the “who cares where this story fits” wonder of experimentation, the “why bother when nobody cares whether I ever write another book” thoughts of the already defeated. Magic always existed for me. When I outgrew Emmaline’s magical take on the world, hope became my magic.

Hope is possibility.

When hope dies, I die. In the past year, I almost died. Almost.

With nothing to do but write, I spent two solid days crying, a week staring at a screen with a soundtrack of the reasons to give up, to heed the obvious instruction of the Universe, to release the tail feathers of hope.

But in this lions den in a little-known Swiss village, I slaughtered the big cats guarding the door. With nothing to do but write, I spent two solid days crying, a week staring at a screen with a soundtrack of the reasons to give up, to heed the obvious instruction of the Universe, to release the tail feathers of hope.

And once I mourned everything I’ve endured on this frightful road, I opened my computer and wrote what came. 60,000 words in two weeks. A torrent I couldn’t stifle or suffocate or shut off.

Once again, I hope these people will change the way you see history and humanity. I hope you already want to meet them, and can’t stop yourself from telling everyone you meet to read. I hope I’ll be given a seat at the table, and the Wonder never ceases.

Switzerland means hope to me.

It crawled into my sagging soul. Accepted me when I believed I didn’t belong. It quieted my anxieties and simplified my life. I’m grateful I was able to see.

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P.S. Wondering what I’m doing in Switzerland? I’m at The Trelex Residency in Maison Binet!

The book I’m working on now is a sequel to the others in the Nowhere Series so if you haven’t read the first two – go get them now!