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): Emma Bovary was a woman who loves books, she was fascinated by reading. Thus, she became through her readings a woman full of dreams and ambitions. Could you tell us about your reading style and your take on it?
Julie Guégan (JG): I am fascinated by the unique journeys and the courage of those willing to do anything to live out their ambitions. Nonetheless, life has taught me that it is necessary to strengthen the foundations before daring to live our dreams. Ultimately, nothing is worse than notoriety or passion over an unstable personality, at the mercy of others and their judgments. Islam recommends seeking the centre, “our midst” which leads to balance and grounding, and this advice has been with me all my life. This means that the goal is not to come out of ourselves as quickly as possible, but on the contrary to take a laborious and slow journey inside, into the depths of our being. This work is the one that will allow us to better understand our resources and to face the difficulties of our existence.
In my opinion, Madame Bovary is the very example of a person who wanted to cut corners in order to achieve her ambition, of which she also did not understand the exact definition. Indeed, ambition is not something vertical, it is not to climb the ladder, but to radiate the self. Above all, it is not about trying to surpass others, or worse, surpass ourselves. The real ambition is in fact circular, it is the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. It does not lead to an arrogant attitude, it rather leads to Love. The starting point is once again the middle, which is located at the level of the navel, at the heart of the belly, where our emotions nestle, and therefore our strength and power.
Madame Bovary was undoubtedly like me inspired by these people who know how to take height on events and trials, and who do not let themselves be taken by the dark side or take pleasure in suffering. When I believed that I had reached my tolerance level and that I would not be the same after that, I clung to life stories, like her. However, it seems to me that she failed to grasp that their radiance came from their journeys strewn with pain and rejection and that power was not a gift from birth but the result of success in overcoming them. These fictitious or real stories of men and women are so much inspiration to me. I have come to believe that the people who have the biggest smiles are also the people who have suffered the most. Carl Jung recommended that we first know our dark side, in order to know how to master it to let the light circulate and then spring out. It requires having the courage to face ourselves, to look deep with an internal mirror, and to regularly check that we are aligned with our values and our ambition. It requires working on our willpower, which is a muscle. We do not climb a mountain in a day, but step by step. Often times I have seen beings around me indulge in a form of laziness and still develop big dreams. Experience shows me that the only way to achieve the ambition we set for ourselves (often in childhood) is to prepare for it every day. How many people have I seen no longer able to access their creative energy and despair of having let their dreams slip away? I encourage everyone around me to believe in their potential and to empower themselves to make it happen because it is the only one that leads to happiness and a better world. The good news is that this awakening can happen at any time. My grandfather became a musician at the age of 80! He found the woman of his life soon after starting this transformational journey and ended his life with her. I saw him as happy as ever, no, there is no age for happiness… It is there at our door, waiting for us to be ready. If we all had the energy not to let the surrounding negativity, fears, and sometimes hatred take hold of ourselves, then we could create a more just and caring world.
I am not naive, I live in a very harsh world, in which many actors seem dissociated from themselves and far from their centre, but I have this hope that humanity has simply lost itself on the way and that “being all together in the mess” has the potential to save us from ourselves.
Coming back to Madame Bovary, I think she felt this dysfunctional world that isolates us from others, especially when we paradoxically need it most. She did not know how to forgive herself for her wanderings and mistakes, and to draw from herself the strength to choose redemption. Did she see herself as a burden before giving up in the face of the magnitude of the task? How many times in my life have I seen myself, in my relationships, as the problem to be repaired or cut down!
Today I know that I am a solution if I consciously decide to invest in myself rather than destroy the negative image that others have projected on me. Know my friend that it takes a lot of energy to see our own ailments, a lot less to see those of others. Every time I get a review, I think about where it came from. While I have my shortcomings and still have a lot to learn, I have come to believe that every negative review says more about the giver than about me.
So I have a course that I set for myself, it has already started to emerge from our article series, and my goal is to keep my eyes on it. The most possible. Obviously, I still get distracted by the negative, the temptations are so great today. It happens when I am tired or when I am still thinking of learning something from it. But let me tell you, there are many more benefits to staying focused on the good and pursuing our life plan.
What would our Madame Bovary have done if instead of suicide she had chosen transformation, asking for help and truly letting herself go on the path of Love? I think our world needs more Madame Bovary, ready to put in all the energy necessary to flourish and completely free themselves from their chains. And our society should encourage this, understanding that one saved person will become able to save another, thanks to the butterfly effect. We would have to be blind and deaf not to see that our planet needs all of us, in good shape! If we have been the species that abused its resources, we can also be the species that will protect it from a tragic fate. Of course, it takes all of us to have the energy for the transformation that is needed.
We have to be the change we want to see in this world, as Gandhi told us. A great way to do this is by growing up through books. So, I share with Camus that the authors are my best friends. I choose books that make me think, grow, challenge me or allow me to use my five senses, such as Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal, Le Parfum by Süskind or Aurélien by Aragon.
(NM): When we love life, we go to the movies. What is your relationship with cinema and how can cinema help people see the world in a positive way?
(JG): First of all, coming back to the five senses I just briefly mentioned above, I think our society values the visual sense too much to the detriment of the other four. I’m the first to rely too much on my eyes, and as I age, I find that I lose my sight more quickly than my other senses. An evil of our century?
In any event, the sense that enables transformation is apparently hearing, hence I recognize the great benefits of developing smell, taste, and touch. Therefore, if I like the cinema, I am careful to vary my activities. I no longer subscribe to streaming platforms, for example. I already spend so much time on my computer and my phone!
That being said, the cinema has and continues to occupy a large place in my life. I can even say that it fascinated me so much that I used to go to Parisian cinemas in the morning. The showings are cheaper and there are only a few moviegoers who are not very fond of popcorn. I’ve seen all the Ken Loachs, I love Kenneth Brannagh and almost everything in British cinema, which makes me laugh and cry, all the while putting a barren look on society. I also often go off the beaten track. So I was able to make some great discoveries, such as The Separation of Iranian Asghar Farhadi, Le gône du Chaâba by Azouz Begag, or Le Destin by Youssef Chahine, the last of which introduced me to the philosophy of Averroes. And then there are the Cassavetes films, like Gloria with the incredible Gena Rowlands, whose performances I’ve seen the majority of. For me, she represents the quintessence of femininity: intelligence, independence, subtle charm, elegance, and strength.
In good French, I would not refuse a good film from our cinematographic heritage either. With my children, we are fans of Louis de Funès and Bourvil. And alone, I turn to films with Bertrand Blier, Charlotte Rampling, or Marion Cotillard. From my youth, I keep in memory, La Haine de Kassovitz, and Trainspotting by Danny Boyle, which marked my generation with a hot iron. When I was little, it was the films about Carmen by Bizet and La Traviata by Verdi that left me with the most intense memories. Thus, I see myself hidden behind an armchair in the cinema, while the matador kills the bull or even the scene where Violetta dies. You have been warned, I am a little sensitive … Even if it did not prevent me from seeing every possible horror movie imaginable with my favorite cousin!
(NM): According to French writer Anatole France “Nature teaches us”. For you, what is your relationship with nature?
(JG): First of all, I have to tell you something about my life. You know me, the Parisian, but what I haven’t had the opportunity to tell you yet is that I have lived in other French cities, such as Nantes, Laval and Mâcon, to name a few. Life in the provinces gave me a taste for unexpected trips to the countryside early on. So when I lived in Mâcon, in the south of Burgundy, I often climbed on my moped after class to get to the rock of Solutré. I liked to reproduce the course of President François Mitterrand, and once, at the top, I could sit for hours to take in the view of the Burgundy vineyards. Every time I step into nature, I feel like I am grounding and reconnecting with the elements. We are so small in front of her …
Later, when I was able to drive a car, I got into the habit of going to Brittany for moments in front of myself, in my parents’ coastal apartment, located on a peninsula. With no store nearby, I have always liked to isolate myself there, to read, write, run, swim, and enjoy the fresh air. As soon as possible, I familiarised my children with life by the water. When they each had three weeks, I put them in contact with the ocean and its salt water. A Breton belief, I told myself that it would make them strong to the bone, and I wanted to anchor this place in their unconscious, as the one where they could always go in the event of a hard blow. We go there at least once a year and each time I feel how much we experience this parenthesis as a rebirth. Each of us can create this similar space, fictitious or real. A place to regenerate.
If I cannot take the road too often for Brittany, due to the distance, I do not stay in town for long. I regularly organise little adventures with my Fiat 500, by train, bus or plane. As for my daily life, it is not without nature. Every day we go to the park with my dog. We take long walks there, sometimes I sit in the grass or against a tree. And, funny anecdotes, I love hanging from trees, picking up soil with both hands or even taking off my shoes to walk barefoot in the grass. These three activities are very effective in finding a form of balance, yin and yang, between female and male energy.
To come back to your question, I think like many that nature is perfect and that we need to be more inspired by it. It is necessary to be aware of it and to observe it with the help of this filter. It helps to marvel … We humans believed that we could dominate nature. How wrong and how we are paying the price today. It’s about going back to more natural forms of organization and coming back to authenticity. But be careful, the idea that we should go back to ancestral ways of life does not seem good to me either. On the contrary, we must innovate, seek to find together solutions to the complex problems of our time while pursuing progress, instead of rejecting it. Mankind has never been in a better place than it is today. We must capitalize on everything we have learned, but also channel, that is to say, offer a direction to all, which is positive and respectful. And not using innovation to replace humans!
(NM): You look like an energetic woman. Where does this energy come from? Sports or meditation? or both at the same time?
(JG): If you are familiar with Gestalt therapy, you know that the default energy is arousal. When I was little, I could sometimes seem too excited (note: a normal child in fact!), And my parents often tried to calm me down. I had to talk less, “be more reasonable” or control my energy. So, for many years, I was not at peace with my excitement. And so my authentic energy.
Today, I am convinced that if we are to find our centre, to find some form of balance and grounding there, it is also necessary to listen to what our energy has to say to us. Faced with this, I tried to do what my real excitement told me. When I say “real”, I’m not talking about the one that makes us fall for a bar of chocolate, but rather the one that pushes us to take more risks for a life really lived, like deciding to join Brussels 16 years ago. for an unpaid six-month internship at the European Commission.
Then, once I made my peace with this sparkling energy, I started to learn the strategies to preserve it. And I can tell you, it wasn’t easy for me. My coworkers find it fun that I don’t even stop working to keep myself hydrated or to answer questions when I’m focused. I am a very “focused” personality. It’s pretty terrible, but when I have a project in mind I feel like it takes a lot to stop. It’s my “Guégan” side perhaps, which means “fighter” in Celtic.
If you want an example of what this can be like, I can tell you about that swimming competition I participated in when I was 15. That day, my father was to join me to see me swim. It was a French championship and in particular I had to do a 100-meter freestyle. I wasn’t a big swimming star, as I wasn’t really looking for performance. But that day, in front of my father, I was ready for anything. At the whistle, I dived and didn’t breathe for the first 50 meters. At the end of the race, I came third so I got on the podium. Glory in the face of an admiring father. It’s been a common thread with me ever since: love makes me move mountains.
So I come back to my strategies, laborious I repeat, to rest and therefore make room for this authentic energy. I have stones that I take in my hand for a moment of meditation, I regularly go to an osteopath who performs Chinese medicine and acupuncture on me, or sometimes I do reiki. I also like to go to the thermal baths near Brussels, and I spend hours in the sauna. Long walks also do me good, and especially those in the forest, in the mountains or by the sea.
Finally, I also draw my energy from my relationships, first with my children, then my animals, my friends, my colleagues, my family … More and more, I extend this scope. There are the people of the park with their dogs every morning, there are my lovely neighbours, the neighbourhood children, my community in Facebook. When I stop and realise how happy I am to be with them, to enjoy their presence, then instantly I feel serene, in my place.