Transforming Inkstains

The Cave Trip, Part 3 of 3

During our visit to Chauvet Cave, we stayed at a lovely B&B in Vallon Pont D’Arc called Chez Mamé Marthe. The owner was extremely generous with her time, even driving us around town since we’d been foolish enough to travel southern France without a car. I wanted her to remember us fondly, so I probably overreacted a bit when my five-year-old daughter got a tiny bit of nail polish on the duvet cover.

“Is this how you want our hostess to remember us?” I berated her. “It was an accident,” She protested. “It was careless,” I shot back. “If you’re going to wear nail polish, you need to be more careful and considerate.”

The next morning, preparing to leave, I noticed that the altitude had caused by black pen to leak, through my jeans pocket and onto the chair where I’d tossed my clothes the night before. I scrambled to daub the stain away, but I succeeded only in diffusing it. I was slightly reassured to realize the surface was just a chair cover, not the actual chair; still, I don’t expect the hostess has half a dozen spares lying around.

“It was an accident,” Said P, trying to reassure me. “It was careless,” I replied, hoist on my own pen-tard.

If I’m going to be a writer, I need to be more careful and considerate.

When we started this sabbatical, I wanted to transform. I didn’t know what I would become, but that was fine; the real problem has come from lacking a clear sense of what I was, or am. When Lille did not offer up any immediate insights, I started looking elsewhere, but Paris did not beckon my soul as it once did, and some of my newly discovered haunts – Amsterdam, Bruges, now Vallon Pont D’Arc – feel more like old photos than mirrors. They hint at what I could have become, if I’d chanced to visit them at other moments in my life.

When I came to France, I left a lot my hats behind. I wasn’t going to be Director Scott while I was here, nor Teacher Scott, nor Community Advocate Scott if he’s even real. I couldn’t be Friend Scott or Boyfriend Scott or Dungeon Master Scott as much as I might have wanted, but I told myself that a break was valuable, if only to remind myself of why those hats are precious to me. I even flirted with the idea of no longer being Writer Scott, but that proved too painful, or else maybe I just didn’t have the fortitude to stick with it.

However, the other hat I brought along has taken precedence. Parent Scott supplanted Writer Scott last month, due to circumstances beyond either Scott’s control. And if there has been a transformation, it’s been merely that – shearing away the ancillary parts of my identity until my daily habits are defined by one or two relationships – father-daughter, husband-wife. It has only been difficult because it wasn’t by choice, and because I am selfish and prefer to retreat into my own imaginative worlds first. I share others’ worlds secondarily, cautiously, and for limited spans of time.

Meanwhile, the world beyond Lille has been shaping me, also in ways I can’t control. The university where I am perennially employed was driven to the brink of a strike, but now there’s apparently a tentative agreement on the table. My dean has unofficially confided that, yes, I will have classes to teach this fall, if the enrolment is high enough. So Teacher Scott is not dead, but merely hibernating, or rather moonlighting as a homeschooling instructor.

The fate of the wider world is less certain. I, like any rational human being in 2017, am terrified by the implications of the Trump administration, which feels like a face-heel turn in the evolution of social justice, but which is a full-tilt acceleration of the pre-existing economic coalition to destroy the planet, one degree Fahrenheit at a time. I’d love to do my part to stop this global trainwreck from happening, but Activist Scott was never very comfortable in his hat to start with – and Hypocrite Scott is keenly aware that comfort is the whole problem.

So I grasp at straws. Maybe, when I get home, I can direct a blisteringly satirical piece of theatre whose effect will somehow trickle up to global politics. Maybe, if I focus on my own community, then somehow we will weather the shitstorm. Maybe my responsibility really does lie with my daughter now. I’ve always hated the mentality that raising responsible kids somehow removes from their parents the responsibility of living responsibly. Maybe it’s too late anyhow – the buck has been passed for too many generations.

Or maybe I’ll write. My pen runneth over, literally if not figuratively. Right now I feel like I have no time to be a writer, but if O. Henry could write short stories in prison, I can probably crank out something while homeschooling. I’ve tried to write politically charged plays – as a medium, theatre has a better turnaround time than film or fiction, so it can hit hot-button issues if you’re suitably motivated – but I dislike preachy drama, and by the time I’ve dismantled a topic to see it sensitively from all sides, it’s yesterday’s news.

We all want to leave our mark – politically, genetically, artistically. The question at the B&B was, “How do we want our hostess to remember us?” The bigger-picture question is, “How do we want the Earth to remember us?” The 35,000-year-old cave paintings at Chauvet were careful and considered, but in a way they were also an accident – if an avalanche hadn’t sealed off the cavern for millennia, those magnificent paintings would have long since faded.

I want whichever Scotts come back to Canada to be the careful ones, the responsible ones. Right now, parenting and teaching are safe, if draining. Writing, like activism, feels more risky and reckless – but maybe 2017 is not the time to worry about whose chair you spill your ink on. I pray for the courage to say what needs to be said, even if it’s reckless and forgettable. And then I’ll pray either for an avalanche, to preserve my words and make them priceless – or else for somebody to come along with a replacement chair cover, and au revoir Scott’s mess, no muss, no fuss.

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2 thoughts on “Transforming Inkstains

  1. Dawne Anderson says:

    if O. Henry could write short stories in prison, I can probably crank out something while homeschooling

    Is your comparison Intentional or something your subconscious threw out?

    1. admin says:

      Always intentional. Homeschooling isn’t quite a prison sentence, but it’s got the feel of serving time. Like somehow, we broke the basic laws of parenthood, and this is our sentence. Hopefully it will get commuted in May, when we get back to Canada. How many schools can one five year old get booted from in a single year?

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