Tell everybody a little about yourself.
My name is Brook and I’m an American living in Paris. Originally from Southern California, I moved to Paris for the first time in 1999, and spent 3 glorious years in the City of Light teaching English to adults and young children. My degree is in Early Childhood Education, but I’ve always had an affinity for the written word and have thus straddled two careers: that of an educator and a writer. Over the years I’ve written for various international publications and I also enjoyed being an Associate Editor for a pop culture newswire, where I regularly interviewed all kinds of delightfully wacky people and B-list celebrities. My husband and I currently create B2B content for companies in Europe looking to break into the English-speaking market, and this allows us to work from anywhere in the world. My favorite and most rewarding job is being a mother of two young boys, Rhône and Rockwell. Our family has been in Paris since 2016 and we thoroughly enjoy exploring the city, traveling to new places, tasting various cuisines and creating memories together.
Was your creativity affected in any way during the lockdown? Did being in lockdown make you feel inspired or deflated?
Oh my goodness. I feel like all my creativity went into figuring out how to keep my family from going insane during lockdown! There were four of us in a 60-square meter apartment and at times it felt really tight. Days were filled with cooking, cleaning, homeschooling, breaking up fights between the boys and finding ways to get everyone’s wiggles out – either through yoga (my preference), video game-themed workouts (theirs) or a quick jaunt outside. I’d always work at night after the kids went to bed because the days were too full and demanding. As an introvert, I suffered a bit because I had little to no down time to recharge. I had to build in time. We have a little terrace outside our kitchen window which is not supposed to be used until it’s resurfaced, but I snuck out there for 15 to 20 minutes each day just to have some peace and to regroup.
Was it therapeutic doing creative work during lockdown?
I was only able to complete one blog post during lockdown and it was definitely therapeutic. It was an Easter post and it was about my mom sowing the seeds of love through jelly beans.
How did you occupy your time?
We created a homeschool schedule and it looked like this:
Outdoor time (1 hour max, within 1 km of our apartment)
Quiet time (the boys would read or listen to a meditation while I went on the terrace)
Bedtime (for the kids)
After that I’d clean up any remaining dishes, make a pot of hot tea, chat with my hubby, and if I was on deadline, finish an article. Then I’d collapse in bed and have a fitful night of sleep.
What was the main thinking behind your poem submitted to Together Behind Four Walls?
I guess it’s mostly about the innocence of youth and how, thankfully, children don’t experience all the stress and anxiety we adults do during scary, uncertain times. I know they feel some of these things (I’m sure it trickles down from us), but at a young age they are often able to retreat to their imaginations and immerse themselves in play, which is so lovely. I remember walking outside during confinement and feeling gripped by fear and worry. I would have thoughts like: “Is walking by someone and breathing the same air enough to catch the Coronavirus? Should we even be out here? Did I fill out my attestation correctly in case the police stop us?” My stomach would clench up and I’d have to take deep breaths to prevent myself from getting stuck in those thoughts. Thankfully it was springtime and unseasonably sunny (for Paris), so I always ended up feeling refreshed and revitalized when I felt warm sunbeams dance on my cheeks, saw the sparkle of the Seine or spotted flowers emerging from rare green spaces.
What inspires most of your poems?
It’s usually strong emotions or a situation that’s so deep and nuanced, I don’t think I could ever express it in a straightforward, biographical way. Poetry is typically something that wells up inside me and just spills out.
Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote or one of the first?
I remember writing a poem in high school for my Language Arts class. It was quite morbid and kind of lighthearted at the same time. It ended with the lines, “The moral of the story is you never should boast/Or you might end up served with green peas and roast.” I remember turning the poem in and then later thinking it was silly and that I was going to write a short story about a wild, horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park in New York City instead. I showed up for school on Monday and my Language Arts teacher showered me with compliments for the poem I’d written. I found out she had shared it with other departments in the school too because my History teacher said nice things to me about it as well! I guess it goes to show you that you can be your own worst critic.
Do you handwrite poems or go directly on to your computer?
It depends. If I’m at a writing workshop, then it’s all handwritten. Nowadays I put things in my Notes on my phone or in Google docs so I can revisit and revise.
Do you ever give up on poems you have started?
I don’t know if I’d say “give up.” If something feels unfinished, I know I have it in writing and I can always come back to it, even years later. Sometimes I write things that are never meant to be finished. It might just be a few lines that are written and released from my psyche. It doesn’t feel like a complete poem but it serves a purpose.
Do you do any other creative activities?
I love taking photographs and sharing them. I feel so connected to images. My own photos help me recall and tell stories. One day I went to a store called Fnac in Paris to print out a picture and I was having trouble downloading the photo. The guy helping me with the machine noticed that I had over 25,000 photos in my phone and he said, “Waouh! Vous êtes championne.” That made me laugh. It also illustrates how important these photographs are to me. I won’t delete them!
I typically do creative activities when inspiration strikes. My sister recently sent us a hand-drawn picture featuring a scene from the movie Labyrinth and I made a short film about receiving that, with my 6-year-old starring as Jareth (the role made famous by David Bowie). He was in full makeup and high-heeled boots, dancing, singing and kicking stuffed animals like a true Goblin King. I taught my 9-year-old how to edit on iMovie and he was instrumental in choosing the transitions, music and video clips.
How would you describe the tone of your poems?
Introspective or playful.
Why is poetry important?
From an educational standpoint, poetry helps children learn. My students always grasped a concept more easily if it was presented through rhyme or song. Poems are excellent teaching tools. Even a preschooler can understand the concept of a haiku and once you explain the structure, they can create their own. In that one activity, they’re learning about syllables, solidifying math concepts, exploring Japanese culture, and they’re discovering that their words and ideas are powerful and important.
I appreciate both the challenge and the freedom that poetry provides. I am often creatively motivated when given a framework to write within. It’s like putting together a puzzle and that’s fun for me. Even though I thrive on structure (one of my favorite books is called Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss), sometimes I just want to throw the grammar rules out the window and play with language! Poetry allows for all of that.
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