As of April 2019.
The expectations could be that I would write here about my work experiences, my life, how I came to NYC 25 years ago straight from Provence, participated in legendary openings of high-profile restaurants in the 90’s in Manhattan, opened 3 successful businesses, including the 1st French immersion school for children under 10 years old in Brooklyn in 2002 (La Petite École), followed by a restaurant in 2004 (which turned into solely an event space last year) & a café in 2016 (Maison May), and all of this while raising two boys on my own.
Then, I could write at length about my bucolic Provencal childhood, my love for French literature & Mexican culture, my passion for local food, natural wines & greenmarkets, only to wrap it all up with a funny story about my teenage boys & my two cats.
But frankly, in essence, who cares about those details?
I don’t think that the sum of it all is really what defines me & if I have to write about myself, I might as well be transparent & intimate.
So, let me tell you instead a story that I think will draw for you a bit of a clearer picture of who I really am.
It is the spring of 2014 and I am sitting in my therapist’s office in the heart of Wall Street, on the 27th floor.
Her tiny office offers a sprawling view of NJ and part of the bay.
On stormy days, it feels like you are in the eye of the tempest & on sunny days, the view is stunning.
But frankly, rarely do I take the time to stare at the horizon.
I usually just stare at her. The past few years have been quite dense: I used to arrive at her practice, collapse on her couch and proceed to vomit what I needed to address with her that day. My life up to that point had been perforated by a flurry of emergencies.
That sunny spring day of 2014 is no different: as I sit, I proceed to give her my latest news.
She grows unusually quiet as I pause.
She is smiling at me, taking her time as if to think.
I have reached a milestone and I am not conscious of it yet, and she is about to offer me one of the greatest gifts of all time, one that does not come though in a beautiful box with a red bow.
She lowers her voice & very gently she says:
‘So tell me Catherine:
Now that you have saved your business from what seemed to have been, just 6 years ago, an inevitable bankruptcy, now that you have learnt to mourn after having lost during those same years pretty much everyone & everything that you had loved & who you thought had your back but in fact did not, now that you are standing tall & strong on your own 2 feet, now that you know you can provide alone for your 2 boys, emotionally, spiritually, and practically,
now & for as long as they will need it
now that in fact, you can catch your breath a bit, tell me something Catherine:
What is it that you want to do?
What is it that you would like to do?
Why are you here, on this planet?
What is it you wanted to do when you were growing up that you might have not gotten to?”
I feel like I am loosing my balance even though I am sitting on that fluffy couch.
The carved wooden table that has always been here looks like an object from outer space.
She has just dropped a bomb on my lap and I am spinning.
The space, my surroundings, the texture of time, everything seems to have taken a different length & depth.
“What is it you wanted to do when you were growing up?”.
Words are pounding in my head.
My eyes swell up with tears that cannot find their way down my cheeks.
My throat is so constricted, I am gasping for air, my face is likely purple & blue.
I extend my arm to try to reach the box of tissues lying on the coffee table, hoping that it will help me to just cry if I can just touch it with my hand. But the box feels like it is a galaxy away.
Everything is actually a galaxy away.
The box of tissues.
And the dreams I had in my youth for the woman I wanted to become, for the life I wanted to have.
What was that anyway?
I can’t seem to remember.
I actually realize that I have never been asked this simple question.
And now I am 41.
That number is swirling in my head, like some cold dirty water from a forgotten bath unexpectedly making its way down a rusty drain.
Everything feels incredibly still & silent.
I feel stuck.
Like I am swimming in mud, drowning in mud, drinking mud, breathing mud…
Somehow, I manage to look up & I catch her bright blue eyes planted in mine: gentle & yet full of strength. And of compassion, love & respect.
And that does it for me. I snap out of that twilight zone. I start to cry, sob, grunt.
I always have to go down the drain, flirt with the bottom of everything before I can even imagine climbing back out.
I need to go down there, swim in the murky water to see what it means, see what has been lost, smell what stinks, put my finger where it hurts & no matter what, never look away.
Until I can gather enough strength & trust that I will eventually be able to make sense of it all & then climb back out.
This has been the “work” & “training” all those years on that 27th floor & beyond.
I learned to have the ability to question myself to the point of nausea if needed, to turn over any & every stone that could reveal every stinky situation, while simultaneously building emotional & spiritual muscles to get out, resetting body memories at the same time in an effort to learn to not get stuck in any of those dark places, to always find a way to climb back out.
Spiritually, emotionally & physically.
I learned with time not to dwell in that darkness, to move out of that uncomfortable yet familiar zone so my life would not be defined by the shadow I could see myself getting stuck & weirdly comfortable in at times.
And that work often felt dantesque.
I left my therapist’s office that day in 2014 without a clear vision or actually really even any concrete idea of what the answer to that simple question could be.
I just knew that I had thrown myself into another path of discovery that would entail a great deal of effort, discomfort, sorrow.
Yet something was different this time: there was a brighter light at the end of that tunnel.
One that looked like me.
A few months after that conversation, in the fall of 2015, this website emerged (along with many changes in my existing business- I transitioned to Maison May in 2016).
This platform is a free form of who I am at heart & how I want to express things & some of the things I want to put out in the world.
Although many new things manifested shortly after and in the span of the past 5 years, I am still working on my answer to her question.
Still working on fine tuning what it is that I need to put out in the world & how.
What I can tell you though, definitely, is that I am not here to preach or teach or even encourage anyone on any given path.
I am here to simply share my story (actually my many stories…) & create some beauty & integrity where I can.
Take what you need, discard the rest.
Get inspired or not.
I don’t believe there is a magic recipe that works for everyone.
“To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad & lonely, but rich & resourceful at the same time.”