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Street art © 2015 by E.L.K. 

I was walking past the little café on rue des Écoles where all the kids stand in a clump smoking. I like to hold my breath as I pass them, so as not to inhale the smoke. It’s just one drug among many, I thought, but it’s probably my least favorite.

Richard tells me they’re starting to show a gangrenous foot here in France on cigarette packs; the images are much more vivid than on American cigarette packs, but then a larger percentage of French people smoke. It hasn’t become unfashionable here yet.

Approaching my café I saw one of my favorite waitresses off to the side, smoking furtively. She ducked her head as I came near. I could see by her body language that she was ashamed of smoking. I stopped and we talked. I asked her her birthday. In August, she said. I predict that by your next birthday, you’ll quit. I’d like to, she said, but first I need to have less stress in my life.


Street art © 2015 by PopEye

I told her the story of how I quit. I picked a date, which happened to be Valentine’s Day. I thought about it for a month ahead. Fourteen days in advance I smoked my usual fourteen ciggies. The next day thirteen. And so on, until the last day, on which I awoke, took a puff, put out the cigarette, put it in a baggie once it had cooled, lit it up later, took a toke, put it out, until at the end of the day, I got into bed and lit up the little snippet I had left. I took a deeeeeeep breath, and the ember fell on the dusky rose duvet and burned a nice big hole in it. I looked down and said, That’s it. Never again. 

For the next two weeks I exercised like a lunatic, hung out in the sauna and Jacuzzi, and two weeks later the urge was completely gone. 

Acupuncture is also good! she said. 

It probably is, I agreed.



After my usual salmon and veggies, I opened my computer and chomped through a short story that I’d taken to a workshop the week before. I’d tried an experiment, making a draft of the story with everyone’s comments included in bold, with initials indicating who had made the comment. It served as a meditation on other perspectives. In rereading this draft, I could then make decisions: good suggestion, irrelevant suggestion, and skip over the spots where I wasn’t sure. Certain typos were no-brainers. Some of the suggestions involved adding to the story. As I made a decision about each comment, I eliminated it. Except one: someone in the workshop suggested changing a central metaphor in the story, because it was too familiar to her. But it wasn’t familiar to me. It seemed intrinsic to the nature of the character. I mused on this, and couldn’t decide. 

At that point, this same waitress came up to me shyly, and asked in French (we only spoke in French), if it wasn’t indiscreet, could she ask me a question? Of course, I said. What do you do? I’m a writer, I said. What are you writing? A short story, I said. But I wasn’t sure if the word in French should be conte or nouvelle.

Nouvelle, she said. A conte is more like a fairy story. 

Or The Thousand and One Nights? I said.

Yes, or Le Magicien Dose, she said.

I couldn’t quite translate that: Dose?

She said it again, and I laughed, The Wizard of Oz? D'Oz!

Yes, she said. 


Street art © 2015 by Fred le Chevalier

That’s magic, I said. I was just writing about the Wizard of Oz; it's a central metaphor in my story. 

She smiled and scurried off to wait on another table.

So that was the metaphor that I was weighing whether to keep. Why did she mention this book, of all books? It was a sign to keep the story as I’d originally written it. 

Hours later, I told her this. 

Yes, she said, everything in the world is magic. Only some of us are open to it, and some are not. Some are closed and fearful. 

We had each given the other an answer to a question neither of us had voiced aloud. But I’d heard her desire to stop smoking. She’d heard my question about my story. The nature of the world is magic, sympathetic magic.




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Reader Comments (5)

Tears in my eyes. I love love love you Kaaren and the stories you tell, the love you share and the openness you possess. I see the magic in the sympathy and empathy and listening you do. Magic to me is the thought that we are not able to fully grasp all the multi-layered and multi-sphered areas of our lives. Most of us don't have the acuity of a dog when it comes to the sense of smell.....but those odors are all about us. Some of us probably see totally different hues in the same color of a navy blue piece of clothing....but all those hues are there. Life is so full of challenges and differences. It's so refreshing to be reminded of the "blessings" that magical sympathy can create. And one other thought: is there another word (in any language) that could be used for "blessing" that has a bit less religious fervor to it for those who are less traditionally religious in their spirituality?

Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 21:41 | Unregistered CommenterSuki Edwards


I'm so moved by your comment! I love you just as much. Your metaphors are excellent: yes, this dimension of magic is exactly like a dog's acuity when it comes to smell. He is picking up signals which we may be missing, but are all around us. That metaphor of navy blue rings a bell for me: I'm so color-blind between navy blue and black that I wore a black and white skirt for a year before finding out it was navy and white. About the word "blessings": I don't hear it as a religious word; to me it's just the nature of life--it's full of blessings, if you're looking for them, if your attitude is grateful. Here is one of our favorite poems, by James Wright:

A Blessing
By James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 23:55 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Cherchez L'improbable

My new Tattoo!!!

Love to you both,

Monday, March 9, 2015 at 2:51 | Unregistered CommenterDavid St. John

I just read your charming post on Paris Play. And I have to tell you that I am at a point in my novel where the shaman is struggling between two world views, the science (climatology) she is studying at the University of Bergen, and the world full of magic she has known all her life. So here is a third synchronicity.


(From Susan Griffin)

Monday, March 9, 2015 at 3:13 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


We know precisely which body part you'll be tattooing, and we applaud the choice.

Much love back,

Kaaren and Richard

Monday, March 9, 2015 at 9:26 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

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