L’Etoile de mon esprit


Today I will share with you a confounding aspect of my personality (just one!). I have a habit of starting a profound or riveting discourse…and then just completely forgetting that I am talking to someone.

My oldest daughter recently pointed this out to me…again. In typical Sandy fashion, I had started a sentence with a grandiose opener, a real cliff-hanger. Something akin to, I’ve got a story for you! This elephant rang the doorbell today while I was on the phone.

And then I just stopped talking. She thought I was just pausing for affect, but a few seconds after I should have started talking again, she looked over at me and this was what she saw: A gaping mouth, a far-away stare, a slightly tilted head, and quiet breathing. Mo-o-om! You’re doing it again 

It’s true, I do this all the time. Especially when I am overwhelmed or in a real creative fervor. (My daughter’s not the first to want to throttle me for this—just ask my little brother.)

The French term for having your mouth agape is bouche bée (boosh bay). If I were a performance artist, Bouche Bée would be my stage name. I just get into a conversational groove with someone, fully intending to stay there, and then whatever I am saying makes me think of something else, and then that makes me think of something else, and so on. It’s like going through a roundabout to come out on a different street than I entered. Pretty soon I am miles from my original thought and have long since stopped talking.

L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a massive marble monument encircled by la Place de l’Etoile (also known as Place Charles de Gaulle), where no less than 12 major avenues, including the famous Champs-Elysées, converge spectacularly like the spokes of wheel. The French call this an étoile (star), and many cities have them, but la Place de l’Etoile is the mother of them all. It’s absolutely nuts, a roundabout on anabolic steroids. Automobiles circle and cross lanes (virtual lanes–there are no lines) at terrifying speeds without ever stopping, signaling, or braking. It’s the ultimate game of chicken. You drive in on one spoke, cross six “lanes” of traffic, and exit heading in another direction.

My first day in Paris, I was jet-lagged, thrilled, and terrified at the same time. A couple new friends and I took off by foot to see the city, armed only with a street map to use once we were good and lost. Suddenly we came upon this spectacle of traffic. We saw people gathered under the famous arch and the urge to be there was overwhelming. Paris, baby! I looked at the streams of endless automobiles and thought, Shit, this is going to be tough. Thank God a friendly native (angel?) shoved us away from the curb and pointed us toward the pedestrian subway. Oh, so that’s how you do it!

In conversation, I’m not so in control. But when I’m writing, another angel visits me. This angel guides me right through létoile de mon esprit, the roundabout of my mind, unscathed. Sometimes, in fact, she helps me build those streets. Sometimes she’s a traffic cop, urging the images or sounds or ideas to speed up or slow down.

Sometimes writing is a country lane, the simplest thing you can imagine…and imagining simplicity is no easy feat in our world of merging lanes and reckless drivers. Sometimes writing is the exhilarating, even terrifying, convergence of contrasts, ideals, and harmonies. The one constant is someone has to build it and navigate it. When my angel swoops down, trowel or whistle in hand, it is a good day indeed.

Use of photo permitted by Creative Commons Attribution License (http://www.freebase.com/view/m/04j8670).

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2 Responses to L’Etoile de mon esprit

  1. Marsha says:

    moi aussi – bouche bée – geht mir genauso manchmal …meme souvant!

  2. Jackie says:

    Loved this!

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