Friday, December 31, 2010

Bonne Année

What is anyone's goal when they begin to be fascinated by a language, a culture, or even by a new hobby? When someone embarks on the indefinite journey of learning all they can about something, do they intend to pursue their education until old age? Do they intend to immerse themselves forever, to replace their old heritage or interests with something new, something learned secondhand? Maybe I'm far too concerned with wondering about people's intentions for the future, the bigger reasons for why they do what they do. I'm certainly guilty of not knowing my exact future plans. But it seems to me that young people often take a very fleeting interest in what they call their "passions." Understandable, as they are, in fact, young. The young relish the fleeting.

I find myself, as I get older, wondering about my own current passions. For one thing, I know I'm not cultivating them to the extent that they or I deserve. My guitar sits, lonely, in my room in Massy, while I gallivant around Paris - surmounting many annoyances, make no mistake. And my French learning has apparently plateaued to a marginal amount of in-person everyday practice: at the bakery, in the hotel lobby, on the phone with customer service. I do very little creative writing nowadays. Etc etc.

Are the things I'm doing now going to matter to me in five, ten years? I'm learning Japanese now, and I find myself filled with an exciting desire to travel to Japan, but will it be fleeting? I wonder where I'll stand when I have children, and what they'll imagine when I tell them about my youth. They might knit their brows in consternation, wondering how they could know so little about their dowdy mother, who once did amazing things and lived with passion but no longer has the energy or the character to do the same. Or they might roll their eyes at the obvious progression from avid 22-year-old learner and teacher, to loopy and intelligent 50-year-old world-traveler.

This year I have gone from elated to even more elated, to nervous and fulfilled and then, suddenly, to pessimism and negativity. I have lived these past few weeks with the constant awareness that my moods are fleeting and easily changed, the fear that I won't be able to control them when they go downhill. I think the problem with this is that the fear was dictating my beliefs; being afraid of losing control of my moods made me lose control.

Winter can be a hard time for morale, especially when it seems the universe is against you. And let me tell you, the universe has seemed to have a very deliberate vendetta against me for the past few weeks. At the same time, I know that it has brought me several very sweet blessings. I need to stop imagining that there is some formula I need to follow to be the same kind of happy that I was in the earlier months of 2010, and just find the happiness in every moment, starting now.

Years and months, weeks and days even, are like people, I think. You have a different relationship with each of them, and you have to remember that these different relationships are no better or worse than the ones you have with others; there is always something new ahead, and you can't dwell on the past years or the other friends or lovers, always hoping to recreate what you had before. You have to always be creating anew, and that is what makes life worth living. I could not imagine many more worse things than finding myself in a third-rate desk job with a complacent family, doing the same thing day in and day out, believing that because we've found solutions that work, we should use them all the time. 2011 signals a new beginning, among many new beginnings that are happening all around us, and one sign of that new beginning is the abundance of unconventional ways to make money, of new technology we can use to do things we love. 2011 may not be a special milestone like 2000 or 2010. But if you treat it like it's special, it may treat you well back.

Here are my mottos for the year. They might not make sense to you, but that's ok. And if they do speak to you, feel free to take them as your own!
  • More literacy.
  • Love the dream.
  • Beauty is yours.
  • Breathe before you break.
  • Balance in and out.
  • Boho budget.
  • No blame.
  • Open up to...

And, just in case you were wondering, here were my mottos for 2010.
  • Do the dream.
  • Go forth.
  • Be your dream self.
  • Believe in others.
  • More music.
  • Live your passion.
  • Get ready to...

Did I live by them? Most of the time! Sometimes it was hard, or they faded and I had to renew them in other words. What did I get out of this? I moved to France, I faced a lot of growing up in a short period, I learned to play guitar and wrote my own songs, I met some amazing people and strengthened so many of my relationships, I ran a 5K, I lost 20 pounds, I read something like 20 books, and I found a boy who so far comes pretty close to being perfect. (The only problem: he knows it.) The mottos certainly aren't the magic words, but they can help guide your choices.

Happy New Year, and may your choices be guided well. :)


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Score

The Bad:
  • Michael's flight being delayed and re-routed through Manchester instead of going Atlanta-Philadelphia-Charles de Gaulle as planned, and causing him to arrive eight hours later than originally anticipated, with no way to contact me to tell me what was happening. Also, the French staff of US Airways are buttfaces and would not help me figure out where he might have been re-routed, even though I CRIED IN THEIR FACES.
  • Super sketch apartment that I rented for us being locked/inaccessible when we got there, and the customer service of the apartment rental company being absolutely awful, making us wait in the frigid hallway of a super dank and gross apartment building for two hours without a direct line to call them at. Their customer service line works really weird, too: it cost me like €0,35 per minute, and every time you call, you have to leave a message instead of talking to a real person, so that they get your information and then call you back. This resulted in them taking ages and ages to call me back every time, as my messages to them became increasingly angrier and more insistent. (I think in the end they were afraid to deal with me, so they TEXTED me directions on what to do instead of actually calling.) They suggested - in the un-timeliest of manners - that a locksmith come "at some point" that night, or that we could go to another apartment. I eventually got hold of the dude and basically tore into him, saying it wasn't worth it, that I wanted a refund, that the company's customer service was unacceptable, etc etc. Michael (poor Michael) and I decided to go have some food and wait for their response, which eventually was to give us an apartment (and I use the term "apartment" loosely) in another neighborhood of Paris. We eventually got there and, although it's kind of a hole in the wall and barely fits the two of us, it's in a beautiful neighborhood and is enough of a roof over our head to make it feel marginally like a home.
  • We have no internet in the tiny hovel they gave us, and I've been doing some hardcore internet begging in our building for the past couple days, asking people to share their wifi access codes. After several failed attempts and a few rude French characters, a nice man a few floors below us gave us his info. Unfortunately, it only works in the stairwell and not in our room... This is where I write to you from right now.
  • Really rude woman at the bakery we went to today who told us "ça ne va pas être possible de manger ici," when she saw that we were eating food that didn't happen to come from the bakery. We don't know if she noticed we were eating one of their baguettes...
The Good:
  • Making snowmen in Montmartre outside our sad hovel residence.
  • Getting baguettes, croissants, and pains au chocolat every morning for breakfast.
  • Watching ice skaters at the Hôtel de Ville (we haven't gotten up the energy to brave the lines just yet).
  • Walks along the Seine (of course).
  • My Japanese class with Michael as the guest of honor.
  • Riding the Metro all day long and walking just as much.
  • Watching movies together (Going the Distance! haha, Gattaca, Tarzan, Dead Poets Society, Gremlins...).
  • Falafel and a crêpe with Mara who had the misfortune to get stuck in Paris on her way home from Marseille (her flight was delayed and then canceled in the end ;_;).
  • Exploring Massy (the park and the hypermarché... the two main attractions haha)
Above all, we're alive and doing relatively well, given the circumstances. Don't worry! This is what matters. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Terrible at Blogging...

...because a certain visitor is visiting. Soon I will collect my thoughts enough to make interesting posts!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I'm not complaining.

I'm not complaining, because complaining is very unproductive. Also, I'm not complaining, because I am in France and I have it pretty good here. I don't like complainers, and I don't like to be one either.


I would just like to point out how interesting it is that France has thrown all these crazy things at me so far. Nothing life-threatening (depending on your perspective haha), but let's take a look:
  • bed bugs
  • brief quasi-homelessness (in French, there's a term SDF - sans domicile fixe, for "without a permanent residence")
  • many, many emotions
  • transportation strikes
  • 2-month delays in bank account setup
  • trash strikes (incidental, I admit)
  • the $ to € exchange rate
  • 15-year-olds (I brought this upon myself)
  • endless paperwork with delays that result in a continued lack of health insurance
And the coup de grâce: Getting to work in normal weather this morning, then shrinking in resignation as I watched the snow flurry with increasing determination throughout the day. Finishing my classes for the day but being stranded in 10+ cm of snow and waiting in vain for a bus that would never come, returning to school to find that afternoon classes had been canceled and that the students had left (on foot??), as had the teachers.

The remaining staff declined to drive me home, saying either that they weren't going that direction or that the roads were too unsafe to risk it, which is a legitimate concern. One administrator offered a laughably terrible map of directions 3+ km long to get to the RER (commuter train) by foot, using only landmarks like station de service (gas station) and collège (middle school), without road names.

Thankfully (so very thankfully, although unfortunately), my friend Francisca the Spanish assistant, had come into work for the afternoon only to find that classes had been canceled, and she needed to take the RER in the same direction as me. It was snowing like the end of the world, and the ground was sinking deeper and deeper beneath a thick layer of snow every minute. Francisca and I took shelter in the nearby shopping center, ate a warm lunch and wondered what France expected us to do. With no buses, no car, no taxis to be found, and the RER at least a 45-minute walk away in a snowstorm of yeti-horde proportions, it seemed hilariously... French. Like everything else they've put us through so far.

We were about to head out on the path I had re-charted using Google in lieu of the laughably bad administrator's map when we heard a security guard directing fellow sufferers toward the RER in Bures-sur-Yvette, which we needed. We improvised, asked him directions and made to cut through the park he indicated with a gloved hand, hurriedly attempting to follow the couple he had just advised. In the park, we lost our quarry but encountered the KINDEST, MOST GENEROUS FRENCH SOUL EVER IN THE WORLD. A middle-aged man tramping through the snow stopped to answer our desperate requests for help, going so far as to accompany us about three-quarters of a mile along the way, in the opposite direction from his destination, and in the raging snow. He dropped us off where the road branched and told us which direction to take. We followed it, trudging along with a fellow sufferer we had acquired along the way.

My classes had ended at 12h30. I finally got home at 17h50.

Yet, I'm not complaining. I'm not complaining, because I wasn't alone, I wasn't scared, I didn't stress out, I kept warm, I made it home, and I can do anything.

New York taught me to be independent, confident, assertive, critical, open-minded, adventurous and curious about the world.
France is teaching me to be prepared, relaxed, indulgent, efficient, forgiving, sentimental, grateful, persevering, and even more curious about the world.

I don't care how much cheese and pastries other people eat while they're here; I don't care how much money they blow on traveling around Europe to drink and be pretentious like everyone else. This is the kind of experience I value more than anything else - seeing the world by seeing who I am.

Let me make it clear that I am NOT asking for more of this. (Ok, France? Do you hear me?) But I know that this is what life is giving me to work with. I could be spoiled and shortsighted like these Westerners teaching English in Japan, who complain about having small bathrooms and sleeping on futons, and say infuriating things like, "Isn't my couch great? You probably won't get one, but you can just buy one, and you can buy bookcases and a bed too since you'll want those." But I sincerely think it's more worthwhile to cultivate your SELF instead of your STUFF, wherever you are in life.

And whatever you happen to be complaining about today, just think about me being stranded in a snowstorm for five hours. And that even that, really, isn't worth complaining about.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's On

If you want to learn to value your relationships, try moving to another continent and restricting your communication to email and Skype. Then see where you stand.

Maybe it's the fact that I'm not débordée de travail (overwhelmed with work) like I was in New York, to pass the time. Maybe it's lots of things. But I have never missed anyone until this year. I think it's doing me some good to get a little sentimental; it's a counteracting force to my years of heartlessness. At the same time, I find it very difficult sometimes to be without an established support system at my fingertips - and I don't mean just on Skype. Skype, in fact, drives me up the wall sometimes by its very nature. It's the symbol of my inability (voluntary though it is) to be physically present among the people I care about when, sometimes, that's all I want. I'm making friends here, certainly. But home and the people who tug at my heartstrings with their emails (and there are several of you) are always on my mind.

Being in college doesn't really make you an adult. I realized that long ago. You're not required to do hardly anything on your own, and although life is definitely hard in its ineffable way during college, it's not the same as the real world. I'm hardly claiming to be part of the real world right now. I'm just getting a feel for how hard it is to maintain your friendships and job and emotional health all at once. I'm lucky that I found a good balance of introversion and sociability while in college. I think it's exactly what makes me tick. In fact, I know a lot of people close to me are like this too.

For instance, I feel perfectly satisfied in the social sphere on the days I work; I estimate that I have a total of about 200 students (is that true?! *checks math* hmm yup). I love working with them. Sometimes they are incredibly frustrating (like the girls I had to send back to their main teacher last week when they wouldn't SHUT UP laughing about nothing), but then there are days when I do a freaking sweet lesson and all my students leave the room chanting "Please call Stella..." You have no idea how much I love that.

But then I get home and, while I relish the downtime and snacking and, especially now that it's winter, curling up in cozy clothes, I'm alone. My schedule isn't packed to the brim with "extracurriculars," as it were. I have Japanese, which is a weekly joy. But that's really it.

Sometimes I go to parties on the weekends, and then, today was my flatmate's birthday. She invited her close friends and family for "lunch" (we didn't eat till 2:30 or 3) and I spent a solid 7 hours letting French flow from my mouth like it was nothing. I felt like myself, I felt bilingual, I found the company warm and accepting, and I ate so much that I now have a killer stomachache. (I was also complimented on my tarte à la citrouille [pumpkin pie]), even though baking pies in the microwave is the bane of my existence. The crust never turns out quite right.

But I don't want to feel like I'm wasting my time in France anymore. Conversation groups, volunteering, a second job... it's on, haha. Some assistants and I are planning a Christmas movie marathon next weekend, which I'm super excited for. I can't express how pleased I am that so many of the people I've met here, French and otherwise, are as free-spirited and open-minded and warm as I always try to be. It makes life so much more fun, when I get off my butt and experience it.