Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

The unsettling nature of a return to the ordinary.

Perfect autumn day in Haute-Loire

Perfect autumn day in Haute-Loire

Saturday morning was, like every morning since we got back to France, unseasonally warm, though the notion of “seasonal” has lost much of its weight in light of ever-increasing temperatures on the planet we call Earth. We did our weekly shopping and made our way to C’s parents for lunch. Just as we were sitting down to eat, C’s mom pointed outside. “You see that fog?” She indicated a low cloud in the distance. Suddenly it began to snow. It kept on throughout the afternoon and into the night, and it’s snowed a bit today as well. Temperatures dropped from 60-65°F (15-18°C) to 35-40°F (2-5°C) within a number of hours.

And so it is winter.

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A happy memory, and a worthy objective

If you ever want to teach a young adult about the value of a dollar, send them on a 3 month roadtrip with very little money.  At 21, I was just stupid enough to go ahead with a trip around the continental US with two friends right after a series of unfortunate circumstances left me very much broke.  I couldn’t bear the thought of backing out after a year of planning, and luckily my friends had all the faith necessary to lead me to believe we’d be ok.  Off we went, me sat in the back with a few crochet hooks and a few dozen spools of yarn, whipping out tams for dreadies as fast as my fingers allowed. Tams raked in big bucks in those days – I got anywhere between $30-60 for each one.  By the time we left the parking lot of a Phish concert somewhere (Wisconsin?), I’d made just enough money to be on par with my amigas, who were also not rolling in it.

Every penny was precious, so we did not buy what we did not need.  Facial cleanser was just outside our budget, so we’d been using soap.  My girlfriends both had amazing skin, but about 6 weeks in, even they were feeling the stress of it all.  We were in a campsite just outside Quantico (An old man outside a convenience store: What the hell are you girls doing in Quantico? hehe…As with many corners of the US we crossed on that trip, we did not fit in).  I woke up before my companions as I always did, owing, I believe, to my mother’s refusal to ever let me sleep in as an adolescent.  My friends, however, could sleep in those boiling hot tents until well past 10, and I couldn’t stand it.  So I went for a stroll, into a part of the campsite that had been cordoned off.  I could see right away that this part of the campsite had undergone years of neglect: campsites were worn and unused, weeds grew over firepits, it appeared the roads hadn’t been driven on for at least months, if not years.  Interestingly, there were plastic ribbons tied round the branches of a number of trees, which were conspicuously growing in the way of clearly – if anciently – designated campsites.

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Home again.

When I was 13, my family underwent a restructure of sorts.  Upper management felt that it was best for everyone if the organisation split off into two directions, and owing to financial constraints, both parties relocated.  Ergo, the home I grew up in was no longer my home.  I thought my heart would break.  It didn’t.  But it was a difficult time.  We had lived in that house for 8 years, and I had also gone to the same Catholic school for all that time.  Public high school was looming, and though I had a terrible time in my elementary/middle school, I didn’t know anything else, so I was more than a little apprehensive about what was to come.  It was the end of so many things and I was frightened; it was also the beginning of many wonderful things, but when we’re fixated on the past, it’s very hard to turn our attention to the future.

Three years later, across a continent and over a rather large “pond”, C, having recently discovered basketball, was being discovered himself.  It’s not every day in France you find a decent 6’7″ 16 year-old baller.  And so it was that he was recruited to a team near Saint Etienne and moved away from the home into which he was born.

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Turn and face the strange.

Some time ago, in the midst of one of my many (many) existential crises, I happened upon a series of books called The School of Life.  The premise of all these books is that sometimes the things we aren’t overtly taught via the many institutions to which we belong by choice, default or force, could really use some basic instruction.  Some titles include How To Connect with Nature, and How To Be Alone, as well as News: A User’s Manual.   One of the books proffered is How To Find Fulfilling Work, and whilst I have been engaged throughout much of my adult life in fulfilling work, at the time I found that book, I very much was not fulfillingly employed.

This, unfortunately, remains the case.

You see, whilst I do love language, and I do love teaching, I do not so much love teaching language.  I never envisaged teaching English; teaching English was something I never foresaw falling back on, and that happened to save my arse when I did indeed fall.

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In the in-between…just a little bit longer.

I recently watched an interview with Elaine Stritch that the New York Times released (re-released?) after she passed away a couple of weeks ago.  There’s this moment where she says, quite intensely, like she really, really means it:  Live expectantly.

Ms. Stritch didn’t want to know what was coming her way.  She wanted it all to be a big surprise, one day to the next.  I guess that’s the life of an actor.  Living expectantly sounds romantic.  But life doesn’t just happen to us.  Most of us, I have found, are doing the best we can, which means we’re working really hard toward something or other.  So while we might be ready for all the wonderful or terrible things that may come to pass, and while we might live our lives anticipating the unknown with a sense of joy, if that unknown is going to go anywhere near the direction we’re hoping, we’ve got to put in some good old fashioned graft.  We’ve got to plan, follow through, figure out what works and what doesn’t and quite often start all over again.  And that’s not even the worst of it.

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Step Two: Not just any list

Gosh – it wasn’t so very long ago I was feeling really rather proud of myself…I’d made all this space!  And I really had – just a few days of extra work got me well ahead of the game so that instead of feeling like I was doggy-paddling out of breath in icy cold water, I felt a bit more like somewhere in the middle of a long, challenging jog.

And then.

At the high school all the teachers have their own personal cubbyhole.  More often than not I can get updates about what the union’s got going on, which are of more or less no interest to a sub, so I use them to practice my articulation…progressives are wordy as hell.  A few weeks back, though, I happened upon a letter from the Rectorat (school district) informing me that I had training in January.

“Oh, bah!”  I moaned to a colleague. “Are we ever allowed to get out of these?  It’s on a Friday!  I teach 6 classes on Fridays!”

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