The power of words and the search for beauty

The dialogue with Noureddine Mhakkak, Morrocan writer and poet, is a cultural journey into the worlds of Letters and the Arts. That is to say in the world of poetry, prose, cinema, painting, and photography on the one hand and in the world of current affairs too.

Noureddine Mhakkak (NM): How did you see the world after obtaining your baccalaureate? And which path did you choose to achieve your dreams?

Julie Guégan (JG): Do you know the song “Place des Grands Hommes” by Patrick Bruel? Well, inspired by the lyrics, with my great friend from the Lycée, Julien, we wrote a letter, in the form of a contract, the day we passed our baccalaureate. Our goal was that, whatever our course of life, we would meet every ten years on this same day, at this precise time, and in this place in front of our lycée. Ten years later, we did meet there…

Between those two dates, I started my adult life and made the decisions that would determine the rest of my life. It all started one night in 1997 when I was planning a career as a physiotherapist. I had only just started school a few days ago when suddenly I had this weird dream of myself doing massages all the time and this came as the ultimate nightmare for the insatiable learner that I am! I am pretty sure looking back now, I would have enjoyed the career a lot, but at that time, it felt wrong for me, at least.

To make it short, the next day, I woke up with the urgent need to change my path. And a few hours after sorting out all the administrative details and packing my suitcase, I was on the train to Dijon (capital of Burgundy), where my boyfriend of two years had moved there to study. Obviously, I was managing the transition well. I found a roommate and a seat at university to study English literature. Yet, if I had gained freedom with this choice, I would quickly discover that it would be the source of quite a bit of difficulty. First, my boyfriend was leaving me because I had somewhat thwarted his plans, he who yearned to have an unattached academic year. Second, I didn’t really thrive in these studies, which were too literary for my taste and lacking in substance. Finally, I continued all year long to blame myself for causing my family to worry by leaving overnight.

With this first story, I realized that separation was a fairly recurring mode of operation in my life. This is usually what gives me the space to sort out my challenges, grow and renew myself. Basically, it’s a way like any other of respecting myself and respecting others. Only, as you well know, the term has a very negative connotation, and so I had to do a lot of work to be at peace with my need for escapes, which are really nothing bad. By the way, I prefer the word “passage”. I add this reassuring side, so essential for me, so that I trust myself. It is also necessary for others, to whom I want to give my undying love when I leave them. I’m going to tell you a little secret: I’m a very faithful person!

After this first year in Dijon and my graduation, I first moved to the UK for a while as an au pair to look after the twins of a famous British lawyer. When I was not taking care of the children, I would watch the 1998 World Cup football matches with friends from London and France, or I would spend hours with the dad, listening to his most improbable trial stories. This was a defining period because I understood that I would always need to be surrounded by children, animals (they had an incredible Bernese Mountain dog), and good conversations.

On my return, I decided to continue my studies in Paris. This time, I joined the University of Val de Marne, for a second-year DEUG degree in international business. As, in the meantime, I had met a man, I moved to live with him. I had no plans to return to live with my family, having gotten used to the lifestyle of an independent woman. For several months, we lived together with his parents, who were originally Greek. They were incredibly kind and thanks to them I got to know the Orthodox religion and its customs. I will allow myself a little aside to tell you that the father of my children is also Orthodox and that I made the choice to convert to this religion, while we were baptizing our children. When we say that everything is written …

In short, back to 1998. After a few months, I was too bored with this abstract teaching again and I decided to take the time to think about my future. Through friends, I got a little job as a saleswoman in a Swatch store, located near Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. For six months, I would see the most beautiful models in the world entering the chic boutiques in the neighborhood. So, from this small, unpretentious space, I began to dream of a life made up of travel, intercultural encounters, and creation. September 1999, my decision was made. I wanted to join a communication school, the building of which was on the Champs-Élysées. Immediately I felt my passion for this discipline. First internships too, in audiovisual production, television, marketing …

If you don’t mind, I want to tell you two stories from this period. First memory: I was doing an internship in a public relations agency, known for its international consumer shows. The tasks didn’t motivate me more than that. And then, one day, the director, accompanied by her son, came to tell me about a crazy project they had chosen to embark on: reviving a famous chocolate factory from the last century. They were looking for an intern to help them and offered to change my project. Without hesitation, faced with the magnitude of the task, I accepted and at the same time discovered my taste for challenges. My activities consisted, for example, in finding the chocolate artist who would give birth to the new creations, while ensuring that they would be aligned with the values of this prestigious brand, in meeting a bunch of suppliers for the tea room space (often enthusiasts behind the production of tea, coffee or cocoa) or to search the cellars of shops, to unearth treasures from another time. And then, of course, I had unforgettable moments with everyone involved in the project. We spent our evenings tasting chocolates and pastries from the most beautiful places in the capital or thinking about all the pricing and marketing strategies. So many activities that would allow me to discover behind the scenes. entrepreneurship, and explore my creativity, in a new way.

Second story. I was joining a project to create a cable television channel. My role was again quite versatile. There was everything from production work to writing show synopses to public relations. And then, suddenly, I was asked to play the host for the pilot that would be presented to shareholders and decision-makers. And as usual, I accepted the challenge. It wasn’t long before I found myself in front of the camera promoting the Nokia 3110 and other technologies of the day. I was congratulated, I was even cheered and I was told that I was made for this job, while I saw myself as an empty oyster shell … And I made the decision that day that I would not spend more time in front of the camera until I enrich my brain with experiences and knowledge.

After these few life stories, you already understand a little better who I am and what motivates me. I am curious about the world around me and I try to learn as much as possible in order to be useful to it. But in all circumstances, I have to do things my own way.

I have lots of other stories, but I’ll save them for next time, if you don’t mind. So I would tell you how I worked alongside great actors, or why I joined Brussels 16 years ago.

(NM): There is a French proverb that says “Leave time to time”. Could you tell us about your way of managing time, and seeing the world itself through the notion of time?

(JG): I read Daniel H. Pink’s book “Blink” a few months ago. This is one of the very useful books on time management. Such an essential research subject, when you can feel how much it accelerates and sometimes even escapes us. I have learned several lessons from all of my readings on the topic that I would like to share with you here. First of all, time should be seen as an even more precious commodity than money. If I don’t give money to everyone who asks me, I have to do the same with my time. Obviously, I’m not saying that you always have to calculate, there is time you like to give without counting, and then there is strategic time. It’s up to us to find the formulas that suit us best, according to our interests. The second lesson concerns the structure of time. In a fast-paced world, it pays to take back control. This involves giving it a little structure, not too much, however, in order to leave room for the unexpected (which, as you will understand, tends to make me happy!). Also pay attention to rigidity, which in my experience is a nasty flaw that harms our body. So, it is good to have some rituals and other routines while maintaining some flexibility.

Every morning, I start my day with a little cleaning. I like to work in a tidy, airy, and rather clean space. It’s just another way to clear my head and start the day brand new. Then when my kids are around, it’s a time for them. We do not deprive ourselves of hugs before getting ready for school and leaving for the tram station. When I return home (in music if possible or with a good audiobook!), I am getting ready for a powerful run with my dog. Then I work until lunch. Precious break-time I try to save for dates with friends and colleagues or errands. The afternoon is much like the morning. I should point out that I eat very light at noon to be able to keep energy during the afternoon. As for the evening, I have my daily meeting with the neighbors of the neighborhood, while the children play together in the park. My evenings are occupied by more hugs, and books, or work. I reserve leisure activities, such as cinema, shopping (I love markets and second-hand shops!), outings with friends, or nocturnal exhibitions for the weeks when my children are not there.

Another lesson I want to share with you, related to the structuring of time, is the importance of beginnings and ends. So when I organise our vacations, for example, I take great care to have special attention to these moments. I know if they are successful then our vacation will be one to remember! A tactic that I encourage you to follow, having experienced it many times.  

Finally, I have kept from these books the importance of our relationship to the future. The more we develop this belief that the future is near, the more we are able to make responsible decisions in the present moment. Faced with the many biases that we can have on time, I think this lesson has been the most effective for me. So of course, I am convinced of the benefits of living in the present moment and asking questions that will allow us to optimize it (such as “how can I make this moment even more unforgettable?”). However, I no longer lose sight of the logical consequences of my actions. That’s a habit to take…

(NM): Do you have a diary in which you write the little secrets? In your opinion, what is the role of this type of intimate writing in the person’s psychic life?

(JG): I am right-handed. When I write with my right hand, I make my conscience speak. But, when I write with my left hand, I make my subconscious speak. And then, you will tell me, what happens when I type on the computer keyboard with the few fingers that I only move? Well, no idea! I who love experiments, would certainly find it interesting to watch if I write the same things according to the model I choose. I am teasing you now, but this very light reflection allows me to remind people of the importance of being open and of constantly testing our convictions as well as our reality. It would be a shame not to experience the present as it really is.

Everything is ephemeral, even self-knowledge. One day I feel like I have come to understand everything I am, and the next day everything seems to be upside down, and I tell myself that I really have to be more humble. So writing gives me the means to confront my beliefs and my limitations. Once done, I can then decide to change my past by making it more cheerful when I see it sad. I think there is never just one side of the story and it’s up to us to have fun reinventing it. For this, the best way I have found is to write down my sorrows, to feel the whole range of emotions and feelings from an adult and responsible position, to check with my body if the feeling is pleasant or if something must change, and if so rewrite, as I now wish to experience these events. The power of writing is real.

And as I had fun saying earlier in the introduction, don’t hesitate to change hands, life has taught me that it can be interesting to communicate with our subconscious. I have had a lot to forgive, and I continue to have negative thoughts. It’s both in my genes, and in my culture. It’s also our default mode, us humans. Magnets of negativity, when we are tired, for example. If I walk into a room, will I be more attracted to the crackles in the paint, or to the beautiful picture on the wall? It depends a little on the days, but the commitment that I have made with myself is to seek beauty, even and especially in the days of fatigue. So when I realize that I am obsessed with the crackles in painting, I recognize my responsibility before mobilizing my energy to change my glasses. I can make sure that I have as few judgments as possible and that I truly experience the present without baggage.

Finally, I know that facing the future, I can reduce anxiety that is ultimately of little use.  I don’t want a body or a mind scarred by wounds that burden me and prevent me from thriving. It is continuous and in-depth work. But I’m not letting go, I know how important it is to learn to let go of our shackles. How much if we do not cure the evil, then there will be a “disease” (in French, we say “mal a dit/maladie”, “the evil spoke/disease”).

I am telling you all this, and tell myself that your readers will think that I spend my time analyzing myself. You should know that this work especially helps me to live better with others and the act of reparation is much more generous than you think. Our society is sick, it would be good if everyone did some healing work. A real no-fake happiness pills. I have a lot of empathy for those who are in pain because, as I told you, I still suffer a lot. I am sensitive, a bit like a sponge and I pick up negative waves very well. Only, I will not let go. Whatever the hardships, I have decided that I will stand, for my children and be a role model for them on a happy fulfilling life.

We have the power to solve problems one by one, to seek the light, and say “no” to anything that hurts us. We can really decide to get out of it and stay hopeful, even when life doesn’t give us presents. I understood, you know, that those who want the good are more tested and challenged. But the longer you persist, the more you acquire the conviction that curing your ailments is the only possible path to well-being and fulfillment. And even if it hurts, and we only see thick fog. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Keep faith.

Writing is essential for evacuating, for seeking to understand, and for raising awareness of each step towards healing. Because, it would be dangerous to think that we will get up all at once. It’s about being patient, determined, a lot of forgiving ourselves, and if one day we’ve been disappointed it really doesn’t matter, just transform our inner voice into an encouraging and caring internal coach.

I am lucky to have a friend, Stéphanie, who acts as a great coach and who has a knack for picking me up whenever I blame myself. Just thinking of her energetic and positive voice makes me feel good. I encourage all of our readers to find their Stephanie! Finally, let us remember that we are only human, and as Musset told us: “All men are liars, inconstant, false, talkative (…) and all women are perfidious, artful, vain (…)” once and for all, let’s wake up to this reality, because I think that the worst thing for humans is to want to think of themselves as God. So, let’s accept each other, love each other and help each other, whatever our choices, or where we come from.

(NM): Writing a letter to a friend or receiving another from him or her is something that is very present in contemporary literature. I think of Henri Miller’s letters to Anaïs Nin and his letters to him. What do you think of these kinds of letters? In other words: do you like to write letters to friends/girlfriends, or receive them from them or from her?

Oftentimes, I took the quill to write letters, which I ultimately did not send. The act of doing so has been liberating, it is often a good way to let our emotions and feelings come out. Then we feel lighter.  I also believe that letters are used to convey love and tenderness, in a powerful way. I am fortunate to have a family for which writing letters is still a great habit. There is an official side to the letters, and then I appreciate the gift of time. When I want to say something very important, I do it in a letter. Not an email or a simple phone call. “The medium is the message”, Marshall McLuhan told us.  

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