Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Dinner with Graham Greene

Cemetery Sketching, Paris
Sketching in a Cemetery, Paris 1998

Recently I headed to my favorite local cafe for a dinner break with a slim book, The Quiet American by Graham Greene. I looked forward to some good background music and a healthy fresh meal on dishes I wouldn’t have to wash afterwards. I’d been writing much of the day and preparing sketches for a new painting. Preoccupied with afterimages from the sketching session, I didn’t notice the notebook on my table after I placed my order.

A man around my age suddenly sat down across from me. I looked up from my book, startled, and he belatedly asked, “Mind if I sit here?” Actually, I did mind. He was good-looking: tall and slender with tousled curly hair, nice clothes that hadn’t seen an iron in awhile, but even if I had been single, I would’ve had no time for him.

“I’m working,” I said, though hadn’t thought of it that way before. I was reading The Quiet American for the fifth time for pleasure but also for the book I’m writing: to sift through Greene’s prose looking for his impressions of a Vietnam that disappeared decades before my first visit there. This guy was apparently a friend of a friend, but I had no interest in distraction by strangers, whatever their intentions. The man stood up, apologized, and left with his notebook.

In the past I’ve always focused on either writing or visual work; rarely have I done both at once intensely, simultaneously as I am now. Until I wrote a friend I didn’t realize how packed my schedule is these days:

8am-9am: Writing online
9am-Noon: Misc. admin or head straight into painting/visual work
Noon-1pm: Lunch and misc. emails
1pm-5/6: Visual work – painting, photography, printing
6-9pm: Yoga class, dinner, online writing, etc
9pm-Midnight/2am: Offline writing, sometimes Twitter

But this schedule is my choice: in order to complete the book and Calendar Girls in time for a US tour next fall, this is what I’ve got to do. For the next several months. The daily accomplishments keep me going: meeting my word counts, adding highlights and midtones to a painting.

And, really, who wouldn’t rather have dinner with Graham Greene than with a stranger?

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